Supporters of the Williams Report often note with glee that its recommendation of halving the number of councils would also halve the number of Councillors in Wales – saving perhaps £12 million a year in public expenditure.
Money well saved say the crachach – local democracy creates councillors who are manifestly unable to display the intellect, the insight, the articulation, the well rounded tones of Pontcanna and lower Grangetown.
I have only been an elected Councillor for two years joining the 74 other members on RCT Council. I am a novice with much to learn from my more experienced colleagues but already I know that when I work hard I can make the bridge between government and citizen – weekly surgeries, monthly newsletters, daily e-mails and phone calls.
Modern government is inevitably complex. There is hardly an issue put to me that does not require several organisations being pulled together. The pot hole in the access road to the rugby club car park, owned by RCT Council, is on land owned by Network Rail. The man sleeping rough and harassing his poor mother required interaction between the local chapel, the PCSO, RCT homelessness officers and a local housing association. This week we kept open a Day Centre shorn of all Council funding due to the Tory cuts – this required pulling together the community council, the community shop, the community centre management committee, a commercial caterer and a host of voluntary organisations, as well as continuous dialogue with the service users.
A decade ago I was senior special adviser in the Welsh government tasked with pulling together all the competing parts of Welsh government whilst having no place of my own in the bureaucracy. Being a local councillor is exactly the same – and the esteem is about equivalent.
Councillors do provide a key bridge between citizen, community and a social democracy. Once that bridge becomes stretched beyond breaking point then the whole ambition of democratic socialism is undermined.