Nik Butler: Council relationships, votes and community apathy

JPCT 120314 S14110969x Nik Butler -photo by Steve Cobb SUS-141203-095917001
JPCT 120314 S14110969x Nik Butler -photo by Steve Cobb SUS-141203-095917001

“They are pouring through our letterbox.”

That was the comment of one resident on receiving yet another flyer connected to the upcoming local elections. I had to agree with them; in the build up to the election the mass of leaflets and newspaper like productions seem unstoppable.

Personally I find it delivers an awkward message on environmental responsibility. On the one hand there is the inevitable waste, the recycling effort, and the energy expended, in the creation and on the other the comments that people “never hear from their candidates” suggest the need to create and distribute more.

The trouble is you just cannot tell from a front door as to whether the occupants are interested in receiving any literature at all.

The comment gives me the opportunity to ask of the recipient if they read and understood the assumed messages contained within the flyers. The assumptions that parties, or individuals, are solely responsible for service delivery, such as streetlights or waste collection, are printed broadly on leaflets and they go unchallenged.

It highlights just how poor the understanding of the relationship between civic administration and a council body is. That relationship seems to run both ways though with a few comments along the line of “we only ever see you lot when you want a vote” , referring to election candidates and councillors. I ask about the rubbish I see on the street, about the dog mess which seems to collect along certain walks, or the speeding cars; I ask who do they speak to about these issues?

The generic answer is “I phone the council” though more often than not the usual response I see is a shrug of the shoulders as if the problem might not be their concern. The ballot should be an opportunity to renew the commitment from both members of a vote. From the community who share their local experiences and who stop to talk on streets to bemoan short-sightedness or poor response to the elected members who will meet to discuss agenda issues and bigger pictures; both sides should find a place to meet more than one every few years.

As we approach the inevitable drought of flyers and campaign messages I wonder how Horsham might seek to take better care of its council relationship to avoid allowing the little things to build into larger issues and to make each vote count.