Crawley council Labour leader Peter Lamb: Putting citizens back at heart of the work

One of the little things which winds me up is the council’s habit of referring to residents as ‘customers’.

This may seem petty but the words we use to describe people affect how we go on to see them and treat them.

A citizen has certain rights from their government, both national and local, that a customer does not, not least the right to have their say.

Next Wednesday councillors will gather for the borough council’s bi-monthly Full Council meeting and, rather rarely, at this meeting the public will have directly set part of the agenda.

The right for citizens to trigger a council debate through submitting a petition was one of Labour’s last achievements in office and, while the Tory government no longer requires council’s to give residents this power, it remains a part of the borough council’s constitution until local members decide otherwise.

On Wednesday there will be a number of petitions up for debate and though it is encouraging to see citizens making use of their democratic rights, unfortunately in some ways this is the result of residents feeling they have not been given enough of a say in the decisions which their council is taking.

Over the years of Tory control, the council has become increasingly undemocratic with steps being taken to silence any opposition from both residents and backbench members – and not just Labour ones. The more that power at the council is concentrated in the hands of one or two members, the less able your councillor is to help you when you have a problem or need them to influence policy on your behalf.

Enough is enough, an incoming Labour administration would look to undo the damage which has been done and put citizens back at the heart of the council’s work.

This could be as simple as reversing recent constitutional changes or choosing a different leadership model, but more radical alternatives also exist.

Up and down the country increasing numbers of Labour councils are adopting the co-operative council model, working with local people to decide how they provide services and turning customers back into citizens again.