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Citizens’ Assemblies to debate Britain’s democratic future

Published: 
18 September 2015
Professor Will Jennings
Professor Will Jennings will lead the Citizens' Assembly South.

A pioneering project to debate Britain’s constitutional future has been launched, with the University of Southampton playing a leading role in its development. Academics and civil society organisations will bring together citizens and politicians for two pilot Citizens’ Assemblies.

One of the assemblies will be in the North of England and the other in the South - set up to discuss topics including local devolution, decentralisation and new ‘City Regions’.

The Citizens' Assembly South will be held in Southampton – providing an important opportunity for people to help shape the future of the Southampton, Portsmouth and Isle of Wight region. The Citizens’ Assembly North will be held in Sheffield. This Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) funded initiative is led by a project team of academics from the universities of Sheffield and Southampton and University College London, with the Electoral Reform Society.

Professor of Political Science and Public Policy at the University of Southampton, Will Jennings comments: “Our Citizens’ Assemblies will put the voice of local people at the forefront of discussions about how we are governed. This represents an important opportunity for people to shape the debates about the future of the Sheffield and Solent regions and how decision-making is conducted.

“Some residents believe that shifting more power to the local level will deliver public services more effectively and use public funds more efficiently. Others are concerned about adding extra layers of administration – it is these kinds of issues which the assemblies will allow people to debate.”

The launch marks almost a year since the Scottish referendum, which saw huge citizen engagement on an issue central to the UK’s constitution. It also comes as the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill makes its way through Parliament and it follows major constitutional debates in the House of Commons and House of Lords, including Lord Purvis’ Constitutional Convention Bill and English Votes for English Laws.

Professor Matthew Flinders, Director of the Crick Centre and Principal Investigator for the project, says: “This is a huge opportunity to feed the views of the public into the policy-making process and to explore the potential of new democratic methods to reinvigorate British politics."

Katie Ghose, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, adds: “This launch marks the start of a very exciting democratic project to get citizens involved in the democratic future of their cities and indeed the UK. A year on from the Scottish referendum, it’s more vital than ever that the public – particularly in England – have a say on where they think power should lie in Britain.

“These Assemblies could pave the way for a future UK-wide Constitutional Convention, and they are a real opportunity to mould the devolution agenda so that it genuinely involves citizens and puts democracy at the heart.”

Two sessions of the Citizens' Assembly South will be held in Southampton on 24-25 October and 14-15 November, and while places for participants in the assemblies are limited, members of the public will be invited to contribute to the debate during the period that the assemblies meet, here.

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