The Constitution Unit


Press Release: Citizens to be given a say in devolution agenda

14 October 2015


The Constitution Unit is taking part in an important new project to new ways of conducting public debate could strengthen democracy and improve the quality of decision-making on key constitutional issues.

Two 'Citizens' Assemblies' - four-day events in Southampton and Sheffield taking place in October and November [1] - will bring representative samples of the local population together to discuss and decide on the future of local democracy. The first Assembly kicks off this weekend (see details below and get in touch for accreditation).

This exciting democratic project is taking place against the backdrop of the Government's commitment to devolving powers to the local level. For the first time, citizens in English regions will be given the chance to deliberate on the question of where power should lie. This comes on the day that the Government's Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill receives its second reading in the House of Commons.

The Citizens' Assemblies are being conducted by Democracy Matters [2], a group of leading academics - including the Constitution Unit's Dr Alan Renwick - and the Electoral Reform Society, in a project funded by the Economic and Social Research Council [3]. They are pilot projects for the sort of deliberative event proposed by Dr Renwick in a paper published last year on options for the design of a UK constitutional convention.

" Katie Ghose, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said: "Over the next few weeks, citizens in Sheffield and Southampton will get the chance to discuss the democratic future of their local areas. It's an exciting new way of doing politics with people at its heart. A year on from the Scottish referendum, it's more vital than ever that the public - particularly in England - have a say on where power should lie in Britain. "As the Government seeks to devolve powers towards local areas, they need to include citizens and not simply deliver their chosen solutions from above. These Assemblies are a real chance to shape the devolution agenda so that it genuinely involves the people which it affects." 
" Professor Matthew Flinders, Principal Investigator for the project, said: "This is a huge opportunity to feed the views of the public into the policy-making process and to explore the potential of new democratic methods to reinvigorate British politics."
" Dr Alan Renwick, Co-Investigator for the project, said: "We know that citizens' assemblies have worked well in other countries. This project offers a fantastic opportunity to find out if they can succeed in the UK as well. It marks a major step in the development of serious, evidence-based policy on how to improve quality and inclusiveness of debates about proposed constitutional reforms."

Detail of the Citizens' Assemblies

The two pilot assemblies allow testing of two models: the pure citizens' assembly and the mixed assembly comprising a majority of ordinary citizens and a minority of politicians. Each assembly will have 45 members. One will be held in Sheffield with membership drawn from across South Yorkshire; all participants will be members of the public. The other will be held in Southampton with members from across Hampshire; 30 participants will be members of the public and 15 will be local politicians.

Composition Members of the public have been chosen via stratified random sampling conducted by YouGov. The samples are broadly representative of the populations of UK citizens in the respective regions in terms of gender, age, ethnicity, and education. Politician members of the Southampton assembly have been invited in proportion to their vote shares.

The Sheffield Assembly (Assembly North) will be chaired by Len Tingle, BBC Yorkshire Political Editor. The Southampton Assembly (Assembly South) will be chaired by Peter Henley, BBC South Political Editor.

Schedule The work of each assembly will be based around four phases: learning; consultation; deliberation; and decision.

Each assembly will use a mix of plenary and small-group formats at every stage in order to facilitate inclusive deliberation. The work of each group will be aided by a trained facilitator and a note-taker.

Further notes

1. The dates of the Citizen's Assemblies are as follows:

Assembly North
50 Arundel Gate, Sheffield
17th/18th October and 7th/8th November

Assembly South 
Jurys Inn, Charlotte Place and Macdonald Botley Park Hotel, Southampton
24th/25th October and 14th/15th November

For media accreditation, please refer to the Citzens's Assembly Website

2. The Democracy Matters project comprises the Electoral Reform Society together with academics from the University of Sheffield, the University of Southampton, the Constitution Unit at University College London, Birkbeck College London, and the University of Westminster. The project is fully funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.Read the biographies of the project team here: www.citizensassembly.co.uk/home-page/about/project-team/

3. The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK's largest funder of research on the social and economic questions facing us today. It supports the development and training of the UK's future social scientists and also funds major studies that provide the infrastructure for research. ESRC-funded research informs policymakers and practitioners and helps make businesses, voluntary bodies and other organisations more effective. The ESRC also works collaboratively with six other UK research councils and Innovate UK to fund cross-disciplinary research and innovation addressing major societal challenges. The ESRC is an independent organisation, established by Royal Charter in 1965, and funded mainly by the Government. In 2015 it celebrates its 50th anniversary.

For more information visit http://citizensassembly.co.uk