The debate about democracy in Barnsley appears to have gone off the boil, despite the poor turn out at the by-election and the inevitable return of another Labour councillor.
The new member will no doubt join his fellow party members in voting through cabinet policies, no matter how they impact upon the town. This is the Barnsley version of representative democracy and it will continue while ever it retains the cabinet system.
The alternative? Coun Malcolm Price has advocated a reduction of councillors to one per ward. I would take things further. I would argue that each of these 21 elected members be paid a salary and be expected to do a full-time job. Too many members have other interests which determine that they cannot give the role the commitment that the electorate deserves.
Making a councillor salaried would result in better representation, more accountability, better value and make for a more efficient, transparent system. Such a move would open opportunities to younger people and members of ethnic minorities. A full time councillor would be more accessible and responsive to local issues.
Savings would be made in expenses, support resources and election costs. There would be a four year council and the elections would be more relevant as the whole council would be elected at the polls. There would be no need for a cabinet as the full council of 21 members would make decisions.
It is likely that Labour would retain a majority but they would have to work harder to do so. Parties would need to ensure that their candidates were up to the job and be selected more on experience, skills, qualifications and ability than party loyalty.
Once elected, the councillors would be involved in dealing with local people’s priorities rather than leaving them to council officers.