No price is too high for democracy

PUBLISHED: 13:00 14 August 2008 | UPDATED: 16:29 05 May 2010

MAYORAL chain - £1,400. Town crest - £9,000. Parish poll - £9,000. By-election - £10,000. Democracy - priceless! I find it impossible to understand why the chairman of Letchworth Garden City Council (LGCC), Philip Ross, insists on putting a price on democ

MAYORAL chain - £1,400. Town crest - £9,000. Parish poll - £9,000. By-election - £10,000. Democracy - priceless!

I find it impossible to understand why the chairman of Letchworth Garden City Council (LGCC), Philip Ross, insists on putting a price on democracy and claiming it is too high a price to pay.

Two weeks ago The Comet reported how Peter Groves, a member of the Help Eliminate Letchworth Parish Council (HELP) campaign group, intends to stand for the currently vacant seat on the town council.

I have no particular allegiance to either HELP or the town council but I do object when the chairman of LGCC continually baulks at democratic processes primarily because of their cost.

In response to Mr Groves' intention to stand for the seat, Cllr Ross last week wrote an open letter to The Comet which said: "Taxpayers may have to fork out £10,000 for a by-election, so they can attend the last three meetings of the council before elections take place next year."

If a by-election does take place, it will be in October this year. The elections Cllr Ross refers to will not take place until May next year. Is Cllr Ross suggesting that taxpayers should sit back and wait seven months to have their say, in order to save £10,000? I sincerely hope not, especially after he spent about £10,400 of taxpayers' money on a mayoral chain and town crest. A lot can be achieved in seven months, unless Cllr Ross wishes to prove otherwise?

I think it is dangerous, and frankly ridiculous, to put a price on the worth of democracy but, for argument's sake, £10,000 for people to have a say on something that could have an effect for at least seven months would seem to be value for money to me.

On a number of occasions Cllr Ross has said the parish poll earlier this year, which asked Letchworth GC residents if they think the town council should be dissolved or not, was "pointless" and not worth the £9,000 it cost taxpayers. I wholly disagree. The outcome of the poll may well have had no legal ramifications but to the 4,000 people who turned out to vote it was far from pointless as they were given the opportunity to voice their opinions and have their say.

I certainly hope LGCC has not dismissed the poll out of hand because the law protects the public body from dissolution. With a 15.6 per cent turnout and 2,994 saying yes to getting rid of the council and just 928 against the proposal, it would suggest the town council is doing something wrong.

In the weeks that followed the poll, it would have been a great opportunity for LGCC to take a good hard look at itself and try to identify what it can do to improve how it serves the community.

Our country is made great by the democratic processes it upholds and to begin eroding it, undermining it, or ignoring it, at any level is both unacceptable and dangerous.

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