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South East Liberal Democrats back dynamic ideas for “People’s Advocate in planning issues and bigger role for chambers of commerce in local economic development

November 21, 2018 9:34 AM

Liberal Democrats from across the south east of England gathered in Canterbury on 17thNovember for their annual regional conference. Held at the city's Spires Academy, the conference heard from MPs Stephen Lloyd (Eastbourne), Ed Davey (Kingston) and Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) as well as Baroness Judith Jolly and the Leader of the Opposition on Kent County Council, Cllr Rob Bird.

Canterbury and Coastal Liberal Democrats proposed two motions. Both were endorsed by the conference by overwhelmingly majorities. They will now be considered at national level.

The first idea proposed is in response to the widely held feeling in communities across the country that ordinary people don't get a proper hearing on planning matters.

In cities, towns and villages across the South East ordinary voters feel the cards are stacked against them. They see developers hiring expensive lawyers, planning consultants and PR firms that dominate the process and shut out objections.

The Liberal Democrat idea is that communities will be able to able to apply for a match funded grant of up to £5,000 from their local council. With money from their own resources added to the council grant, a community will be able to hire a legal, planning or public relations expert, known as "A People's Advocate," to guide them and help them shape their campaign.

Canterbury Liberal Democrats say this is a simple, cheap and understandable proposal that would introduce a safety valve into the democratic process. "It is not a 'Nimby's charter", said one of its proposers, "but a way of putting a bit more power and influence into the hands of local people. It should also improve the dialogue between communities, developers and councils by giving residents a bit more muscle."

The grant money would not come from local taxpayers but from central government. Each council will be awarded an annual 'Grants pot" of £50,000, with large councils getting proportionately more.

Empowering Chambers of Commerce

Another overwhelming majority backed the Canterbury party's second proposal to help develop the chambers of commerce movement across England, so that every town and region would have its own chamber. A fund of £100 million would be allocated by central government over five years to meet the cost of setting up new chambers and strengthening existing chambers.

Canterbury Liberal Democrats say that for too long central government has imposed economic development strategies that are often remote and unaccountable. They say that chambers of commerce can be empowered to have a bigger say in developing business skills, apprenticeship training and all life training. Chambers would become economic development hubs, as much for farmers and growers as accountants and hoteliers.

"We want to make sure that Chambers of Commerce become a force for progress everywhere. That they are listened to and have the legal right to be heard. There are now five million self-employed people in the UK and they need a voice and towns can have a more powerful engine for economic development," says one of the idea's originators.

Genuine debating chambers

"More than any other party, Liberal Democrats depend on members to originate and develop policy" says Nigel Whitburn, Chairman of Canterbury & Coastal Liberal Democrats. " Our Federal Conferences are not just a platform for party big wigs to be seen on TV, but genuine debating chambers where policy proposals are considered, amended, adopted or rejected. I am delighted that local members are coming up with innovative ideas that may soon be national policy".