HOW would you like to have the final say on how bright the street lights are in your neighbourhood?
That will seem like an odd question to the many people who have never had to give the question a moment’s thought. If you live in one of the neighbourhoods where low-energy bulbs have been introduced, you might grab the chance with both hands.
Don’t care about street lights? What if you could decide how often your bins were collected? Or whether an environmental warden patrolled your streets dishing out fines for littering and dog fouling?
Most people will know little about the work of their local community council and – despite the good work that many do – they will care even less.
But what if their annual budget was £1 million instead of a few thousand? Then you might be interested. The decision wouldn’t be yours alone of course. But your vote – perhaps on an online poll run by one of your neighbours – really would make a difference.
And if you cared enough about an issue you might share your view with friends and neighbours, encouraging them to join you in voting for more local recycling facilities or improvements to the children’s play park. You really could make a difference to life in your local community.
It would be easy to do. Next year the city council will spend almost a billion pounds, with much of it going on school, social care and other esssential services. But there is nothing stopping the council handing a few million to local communties and letting them spend it.
Of course the idea isn’t without it’s risks. Who can forget for instance former community leader Paul Nolan admitting that millions of pounds of public money had been wasted in Craigmillar by local committees on which he had held senior posts?
But does that mean we give up on the idea of neighbourhood democracy? This kind of local control works perfectly well in many European countries, perhaps because they have grown used over the years to this level of responsibility.
It would be a daring move for the city to adopt this kind of devolution of power. The rules would have to be clear, once the money is gone, it’s gone. It would be up to the local community to clear up any mess that might result.
Who knows, though, it might just work. It is surely worth a try. Or do we just to stick with what we have got just now?