Reflections from a former Northam Town Councillor: When A + B no longer = C

A former member of Northam Town Council, Daniel Bell, has questioned the bureaucratic inertia he experienced while serving the local community.

Raymond Goldsmith www.devonlive.com

Mr Bell, who was elected councillor from 2019 before quitting the post in 2020 said: “There is often a tension between trusting the sanity of your own experience and the work environment that you are operating in.

“The system of business as usual, and the pre-determined assumptions about how the thing is supposed to work.”

In 2020, he felt that a series of events had taken place when the World Health Organisation announced a global pandemic.

“They seemed to insist they were related to one another and deep down I could not pretend that I was with the programme I was operating in anymore,” he said. “There was something else going on that could not be ignored not least normalising lockdowns.

“The environment I was in was not conducive for asking questions or engaging at any deeper level of inquiry. It was time to move on.”

Mr Bell said he had previously found inspiration for local government’s potential from a group, Independents for Frome, and Peter MacFadyen’s book Flatpack Democracy.

“What I found refreshing about Independents for Frome was that they were non-party-political, had established shared ways of working together, were brave, took risks and were able to turn the role of their council from being a service provider to an enabler of the community,” Mr Bell explained.

“This engendered a shift from its traditional centralised power relationship with the people to one which made engagement with local government more accessible to everyone.

“People now began to have a significant say in what happened around them, resulting in new energy and sense of possibility.

“Along with this I felt drawn into this arena by a concern at the ongoing damage and destruction on our local environment courtesy of national planning policy ever since the Cameron administration altered legislation to put the presumption in favour of the developer.

“What would it look like if our local council’s truly reflected, represented the genuine hopes and values of the people instead of paying lip service to the colonising programmes and policies of the Westminster bubble directed and controlled as it is by the one per cent money machine?”

Mr Bell recalls a Northam Town Council planning committee disagreement he had.

“I was trying to point out the fact of the frequent disparity between Northam Town Council decisions to refuse planning applications and those of Torridge District Council which were often passed through.

“Surely both councils should be attempting to sing from the same hymn sheet.

He explained another situation in which members of the community were co-opted.

“I remember how all members sat around the table, and the single person from the community was assigned an outside seat.

“When I raised this most simple point asking why the co-opted member could not join the table, I was informed by the town clerk that it was how it was always done.

“Was this an intelligent working basis, simply because that is how it has always been done?

“The biologist Edward. O. Wilson, who once said ‘we are drowning in information while starving for wisdom’.

“So much of the obsolete inertia and dumbing down that happens in local government and our communities today seem to be rooted in the value judgements that they originate from.

“Is it about building bridges or putting up barriers? Relationships or arbitrary rule-following? The spirit of the law or the letter of the law? Collaboration or separation? People or profit?

“It can be a lonely and painful place when something within can no longer pretend or support the system of business as usual and the pre-determined assumptions about how the thing is supposed to work.

“When you can no longer pretend that you believe the official narrative anymore, something else is going on.

“Difficult roads can lead to beautiful destinations. It’s time to move on”

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