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Reflections from Mid Devon District Councillor Elizabeth Wainwright

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Originally published by the Crediton Courier 5 December 2020

Recently, a fellow councillor and I submitted a “motion” to Mid Devon District Council on the topic of inclusion. Our aim was to start a conversation about relationships within the Council and the relationship between the Council and its residents.

Our hope was to increase engagement and representation, and to explore how to create an environment in which everyone - Councillors, Officers, residents - feels welcome and able to play a part in building our future.

A “Council motion” is simply a request to discuss, debate and decide on an issue at a Council meeting. When the Council votes to pass a motion, it can be a powerful symbol of where a Council stands on an issue.

The motion we put forward was based in part on experience and observation since I was elected in 2019.

Some of the specific things I hoped we would discuss included the language we use as elected representatives (e.g. being respectful, rather than rude or condescending) and understanding and dismantling barriers to wider participation.

However, there was little meaningful discussion before the subject was ended.

The motion drew surprising comments from some Councillors – including that we were being “utopian” – and I was not invited to speak, despite having my hand raised. Instead, the immediate follow up discussion took place via off-record meetings.

There will be further partial follow-up via the Council’s Scrutiny and Standards committees, and by working with Officers. I welcome both of these things. However, it won’t have the wider conversation and reflection that we were hoping for.

I’d much rather find a way forward than dwell on these frustrations - so I want to simply share that I think discussions about how Councils represent and engage with residents, and our attitudes and behaviours towards each other, are vital for local government to be seen as a forward-looking and representative platform to meaningfully engage with, especially with declining democratic involvement in the UK.

It may be unglamorous, underfunded, inefficient (and party politics can get in the way if we let it) but Councils are close to citizens; to people who - when listened to and invited in - can be partners in creating long-lasting, positive change.

This will only work on a foundation of good relationships, listening and respect. And as a challenging year draws to a close, and we use our experiences to think ahead, conversations to understand and improve this foundation are important.

DEVON CARBON PLAN

Turning to other things, the consultation on the Devon Carbon Plan will launch on December 7. A series of online webinars will share more about its different themes – transport; the built environment; food, land and sea; community groups; energy supply; and economy and resources.

The launch of the webinar series for organisations is on December 8 at midday, and for individuals on December 9 at 7pm. More info can be found on their website: www.devonclimateemergency.org.uk/interim-devon-carbon-plan-webinar-series/ .

RECRUITING

I’m pleased that at MDDC, we’re recruiting a climate and sustainability specialist.

This will develop and deepen the work I’ve started on our Climate Action Plan, which touches everything – planning and building; procurement; energy; well-being and more.

MDDC’s next online climate conversation (designed to listen to residents and ask for input to our climate work and knowledge) will be on Thursday, December 17, 1pm-2.30pm.

For more details or to sign up, please email me: ewainwright@middevon.gov.uk or Clare Robathan, Policy Officer at Mid Devon: crobathan@middevon.gov.uk .

Finally, I’ve been really enjoying all the wonderful walks on our doorstep this year. There’s a quote I like from St Augustine: “It is solved by walking.”

And another from author Robert MacFarlane: “It’s hard to create a footpath on your own...Paths connect. They relate places in a literal sense, and by extension they relate people.”

Here’s to walking, and to relationships. Wishing you peace and relationship over Christmas, and in 2021.

Cllr Elizabeth Wainwright is our District Councillor for Sandford & Creedy. Read more about Elizabeth here.

Find this story on the Crediton Courier website

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