Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 3rd June 2020

After weeks of columns on Covid-19, I’m giving people a break and changing topics.

This year is the first year in decades Crawley has not had to go through local elections. While the pressure of not having to run a campaign has been good for my mental health, particularly after the four sets of elections held in 2019, I’ve always supported annual elections as a means of preserving democratic control over the council and keeping councillors out knocking doors, addressing the issues coming up in their neighbourhoods, year-round.

With normal engagement impossible for now we’re having to explore new ways of connecting. My weekly Facebook Live Q&A sessions have proven surprisingly successful in encouraging residents to raise questions and have their say on the issues affecting the town. Videoconferencing committee meetings is giving us the chance to provide residents with a permanent online record of decision-making, something I believe should continue when things go back to normal. We’re even producing our first digital edition of Crawley Live.

Having this chance to explore new forms of engagement is important, partly because it enables democracy to continue throughout this period, but even more so because the issues the town now faces will require far better engagement to resolve.

The reality is that recent months have undermined the industry our local economy is built on for years to come and the way we work to rebuild it will have a major impact upon the future of life in Crawley. The decline in the economy has totally undermined the council’s finances, meaning that balancing the budget will involve big changes to the way we provide services. The climate emergency we face and our commitment to address it will also require major adaptions to the town’s infrastructure and the way we go about our lives.

These are huge issues and a cross in a box at election time won’t provide residents with enough of a say as to how we answer the major questions affecting our future. To do that we are going to need public engagement on a scale this council has never attempted before.

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