UK authority puts issues online

Richmond-on-Thames Scrutiny poll

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Officials in Richmond-on-Thames, a United Kingdom local authority just outside London, are letting residents vote online to set priorities on issues that will guide the decision-making agenda of the authority's governing council.

Residents simply click on a list of issues under consideration by the council's scrutiny committee and vote for the issue they think should be given top priority.

The committee is the result of changes to the way local government works throughout the United Kingdom. The changes were brought about by the Local Government Act of 2000, which requires council members to establish overview and scrutiny committees.

Previously, council departments in local authorities were run by committees that would review progress on executive decision, but the feeling was this led to slow decision-making and a lack of openness and accountability.

The scrutiny and overview committees aim to introduce a measure of oversight to this process by holding the council's executive responsible for the decisions committee members make, independently reviewing policies and making recommendations for future policies.

The move by the Richmond-on-Thames scrutiny and overview committee to allow direct online participation by residents in how it sets its priorities is a first for any U.K. authority.

But committee members said they feel the move is a part of the mandate "to make sure that the best possible services are being provided to the residents [of Richmond] and to act as a champion of the community, giving a voice to those who might otherwise not be heard."

Robinson is a freelance journalist based in Portland, Ore. He can be reached at hullite@mindspring.com.

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.

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