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Frome-style local democracy praised by The Guardian

FROME is “proof that local people power can get things done”, says a recent article published by The Guardian

The article by Richard Vize, contributing editor of the Guardian local government network, commends Frome’s local democracy and the Independents for Frome (IfF), who took a majority on the town council in May 2011. Since the IfFs took power, Richard Vize observes that “the council is opening up as never before and devoting its energies to getting things done rather than talking.”

He praises greater engagement from local people, pointing out the dramatic increase in turnout for the elections in 2011, as well as the way decisions and action to improve the town has been taken on a local level.

He believes that other councils have plenty of lessons to learn from “Frome-style” local democracy. He says, “The most obvious is that many more people will vote and get involved in local politics if they believe they can make a difference. The second is that all tiers of local government have to change their mindset if they are to make the verbiage of localism a reality.”

He continues, “The power of general competence in the Localism Act provides great opportunities for “intelligent risk-taking” to shift power to local people. Fear of failure in straitened times must not be allowed to crush new ways of thinking and acting.”

Mel Usher, leader of Frome Town Council, says he is delighted to see the IfF’s approach recognised. “It’s very unusual for a town or parish council to get that recognition – unless they’re doing something drastically wrong! It’s great to put up a case for parish and town councils.”

For cllr Usher, a fresh approach has been the key to the IfF’s successes. “I think it was the arrival of a new set of people with fresh ideas, and a new energy, that was the most crucial part. It’s the positive approach.”

Cllr Usher recognises that the IfF group do face challenges and does sometimes struggle to see the changes they envision come to fruition. “Everything takes us a long time, and sometimes the energy gets sapped out,” he said. “Any proposal you put together, you get excited, and then you have to go through the whole process of getting approval or negotiation with other councils.”

But despite this, the IfF are able to look back on successes and are pushing forward with future ideas for the town. The leader of the town council said, “We pushed heavily for the regeneration of markets, and we saw the end result with the market on Sunday [the ‘Super-Market’] being well attended despite the weather.

“At the moment we’re appointing consultants to look at the Market Place, make it more friendly for pedestrians, and we have something coming up on what we might do to with the river frontage in the town centre. Then there’s the Neighbourhood Plan which sets the future for the town.”

Richard Vize’s article can be found online on The Guardian website.

What do you think? Is Frome a good example of how localism can work? Email us at frometimes@btconnect.com