Citizens assembly could put people at the heart of Northern Powerhouse concept, says report

The People's Powerhouse project was founded by Jo Miller and Tracy Fishwick

A ‘CITIZENS assembly’ for the North similar to those in Canada and Ireland could help involve people in the democratic process in a devolved Yorkshire, according to a report published today.

An assembly made up of random members of the population is suggested in the People’s Powerhouse report in a bid to put people at the heart of the Northern Powerhouse project, launched in 2014 by George Osborne.

Despite the fact that many places in the North are experiencing economic growth, the people who live in and around the growth areas do not necessarily experience the benefits in their everyday lives.

Quote from the People’s Powerhouse report

The report, launched at an event at the House of Lords hosted by Wakefield-born Lord Victor Adebowale, chief executive of the charity Turning Point, raises concerns that discussions about the North’s economy do not focus enough on creating decent jobs and good housing.

It said: “Despite the fact that many places in the North are experiencing economic growth, the people who live in and around the growth areas do not necessarily experience the benefits in their everyday lives.”

Launched by Doncaster council chief executive Jo Miller and Tracy Fishwick, the founder of social enterprise Transform Lives Company, the People’s Powerhouse was a response to the lack of female speakers at the Northern Powerhouse Conference in Manchester.

Its report is based on the first ever People’s Powerhouse event held in Doncaster this July, where some 250 people from diverse backgrounds across the North attended.

As a result, the group’s leaders set out five “pillars of change”, such as creating “a more inclusive North where our diverse voices and strengths are represented”.

They called for civic leaders to work with elected mayors to develop new ideas for greater accountability in combined authority areas. These include the option of establishing citizen’s assemblies, local public accounts committees and more public scrutiny events.

The report’s authors said they want to see a “reinvigorated devolution process with a clear framework and timetable for future deals, both with those areas that have struck deals already, and those still waiting to get properly started”.

According to the report, citizens assemblies have been used in other countries including Canada and Ireland “in an attempt to better involve people in the democratic process”.

In Ireland, the Citizens Assembly was established in 2016 and is made up of 99 people, randomly selected from the population.

Earlier this year, think-tank IPPR North set out a proposal for how such an assembly would work in the North, involving the selection of 252 members by drawing lots from the electoral roll. Assembly members would serve for a full year on two assemblies of four days each.

The report said many panellists at the July event spoke about a Northern Powerhouse concept that feels remote from most people’s lives and too focused on major transport projects. It called for local leaders to make an explicit pledge to put in place practical ways to engage with a more diverse range of people.

Other recommendations include national and local leaders acknowledging that the success of the Northern Powerhouse rests on more than its cities.

The report concludes: “Collaboration, co-operation, co-production and co-creation are all about building relationships to secure better outcomes and ideas to support the North’s future. To this end we are asking government, local and devolved authorities and leaders in the North to support the creation of new and meaningful spaces for dialogue and debate which ensure that the views and ideas of civil society can be used to inform the work of the elected mayors and their cabinets.”

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