Penzance Citizens Panel update

Just a quick update on this initiative.

The agenda and list of speakers lined up is here – click link

Our biggest headache is finding a business speaker. We have a trade union rep talking about low pay, but no-one from the local business community has been found. One very promising candidate has had to duck out because neither date offered was suitable.

Anybody out there who knows of someone, send me an email 

My biggest concern is to avoid a situation where later, people might criticise the list of speakers as lacking balance i.e. we had a trade union rep, why not a business speaker?

Penzance citizens panel-update

At the moment we have more potential speakers than speaking slots and I have already created a back-up list in case one or other speakers suddenly ducks out. There will be ten speakers in all, two of whom are elected representatives. Getting a diverse range of speakers is key but also quite a headache.

For example we have a trade union rep willing to speak about low wages and poor working conditions in some of the large scale retail outlets, but we don’t yet have anyone from the Penzance business community in order to ensure balance. To stress, this is not about adversarial debate or putting people on the spot. A business rep would have a chance to explain the pressures on local businesses, some of whose owners struggle to pay themselves a living wage – a point forcefully made to me by one Penzance  business owner in private.

Session 1 will have just one speaker. Sessions  2, 3 and 4 will each have three speakers with each speaker speaking for ten minutes only. This will be followed by 20 minutes Q and A. That takes up roughly an hour followed by a break.

The aim is not to overload people. If we had one speaker speaking for half an hour, there is always the danger of information overload or just plain boredom. Shorter presentations by different speakers keeps the interest going and also introduces different perspectives on the same issue. The 20 minute Q&A and discussion makes it more interactive and hopefully allows everyone a chance to speak or ask a question.

Session 1 only has one speaker for the simple reason that we need to allow time for the panel members to settle in, get to know each other, familiarise themselves with the agenda and air any questions or concerns they have.

Session 5 will be wholly given over to discussion and debate among the panel members themselves and what they have heard. They will  have a chance to review any recommendations or proposals put to them by the different speakers and either endorse their proposals – or not. They are also free to come up with their own proposals or policy recommendations based on what they have learned through listening and debate. Some will also likely have real experience of the issues under discussion, so this is not just about  listening to policy experts and elected representatives but drawing on the lived experience of panel members.

Penzance Citizens Panel update

This is a straightforward copy-and-paste of a blog I have just done on the panel website. It is a progress report on engaging elected representatives.


It is important that any citizens panel or citizens assembly is directly connected to a decision making body such as a local council, MP or government body. Otherwise it risks becoming a talking shop, well meaning and informative though that may be. Continue reading “Penzance Citizens Panel update”

Could you help shape the future of UK democracy?

If the Penzance Citizens Panel is a small scale experiment in deliberative democracy, this proposal is breathtaking in scope: the launch of a two-year “citizens’ convention” on 1 January 2020 . Its bold and ambitious and it could lead to a constitutional revolution that ends the power of Westminster and puts it back where it rightfully belongs  – in the hands of  local people and communities.

I’ve met Graham Allen twice along with some of the people at UCL. If anybody can bring this about, they can.

The biggest drawback is our imagination. Most people are fed up with politics-as-usual with the article citing the recent poll by the Hansard Society which found that 63% of people feel the UK’s system of government is rigged to the advantage of the rich and powerful. And 47% of those questioned believed they had no influence at all over national decision-making.

Yet despite this disaffection and sense of powerlessness, if you asked people ‘do we need a new constitution?’ they would shrug their shoulders or say they didnt know what that meant. In France they do. In Ireland they do. In Germany, Spain, Norway, Belgium, they understand the meaning of that question. In Britain, we have so lost any sense of political literacy, that we just dont understand what the question means.

Maybe then we need to replace constitution with the word ‘power’. Not ‘do we need a new constitution’ but ‘does your community want power over the decisions that affect you?’. I think most people would answer with a bellow ‘YES!!!!’

Penzance Citizens Panel

As part of my work with Cornwall Independent Poverty Forum we have launched a new project: Penzance Citizens Panel on Housing

The question it seeks to address is:

“High housing costs, low paid insecure work, eviction and homelessness are all issues that blight local communities in Cornwall, including Penzance. How can we as a community come together to address these issues?”

Panel members will be randomly chosen from a pool of applicants. That’s the aim anyway but much depends on how many people  apply.

The project has three overall aims:

To enable people to ‘tell their story’

  • People who experience insecure housing and the threat of homelessness due to low pay, high rents and insecure work
  • People who are actually homeless or have been homelessness

To promote a more informed and balanced public conversation about homelessness issues and their causes

The citizens panel seeks to trigger a wider, better informed conversation among the local public through a local media campaign (see publicity and media section below)

To influence policy makers

While no decision-making body has commissioned the citizens panel, we hope to engage Penzance Town Council, the Community Network Panel as well as our local MP and Cornwall Council.

We also plan to submit a report with a record of the citizen panel proceedings   to other local political parties in the St. Ives constituency.

The project seeks to strengthen the relationship between elected representatives and citizens, not replace it. It is a platform to give citizens a stronger voice and we are inviting elected representatives to speak at the panel and take questions – at this stage, that’s ambitious enough. 

What has this to do with the progressive alliance?

Everything! The progressive alliance initiative  has always been about breaking out of narrow tribal party politics which is crucifying our democracy. People with differing viewpoints have stopped listening to each other and retreated into their party shell, or as likely, their particular social media following.

Citizens panels and citizens assemblies are  about slow, thoughtful deliberative democracy which addresses issues, not party agendas. It is about building relationships between people holding different views and arriving at informed public judgement,  in place of knee-jerk public reaction that is too often driven by anger and frustration – an anger, it must be said, stoked by both politicians and the media as well as social media. Done well, it is the antidote to extremism.

Whether this project succeeds is another question. It is a risk because none of us involved have ever done anything like this before. However we are trying to learn from others and there is now a lot of experimentation going on in other parts of the World, particularly in Europe, Canada and states like Oregon in the USA. England lags behind but has recently taken a giant step in setting up a citizens assembly on climate change commissioned by Parliament.  There are also other individual expert facilitators who have conducted citizens juries in partnership with a few local councils. We have been talking to them too.

Madrid now has its own ‘citizens observatory’ and there is a permanent Sortition Chamber in Ostbelgien (German-speaking region of Belgium). The Sortition Chamber is a random group of ordinary citizens who are chosen in a way that ensures age, gender balance, income and education to reflect the population profile of that area.  

We desperately need a new kind of politics that embraces real democracy rather than the token democracy of elections once every five years where parties are more interested in securing our vote than in listening to our opinions.  It needs to be more participative by allowing us a greater say in the decisions that affect us.  ‘Co-design’ needs to replace consultation and citizens juries, assemblies and panels are central to this process.  


When you can blame Europe, blame the poor, blame refugees

Blaming others is a way of not taking responsibility or not taking action. it is the easy way out.

Our country is in crisis but too often, the response is to point the finger or give two fingers. Our politics is now driven by anger, prejudice and resentment, a blind unthinking desire to  blame other people, groups and countries for the ills and ailments – even though  we have played a part in their making. Continue reading “When you can blame Europe, blame the poor, blame refugees”

Citizens Assemblies: open letter to julian German, Leader of Cornwall Council

Open public letter from Deb Pepper to Julian German, leader of Cornwall Council.

Letter urges him to consider the use of Citizens Assemblies in addressing Climate Emergency we face.

At the time of writing Derek Thomas MP has requested the establishment of a Citizens Assembly be included at the nextmeeting of MP’s and the Senior Leadership Team at Cornwall Council

Dear Julian German
Having listened to the Cornwall Council (CC) January 22nd meeting webcast RE Declaration of Climate Emergency, attended a recent public meeting on the 31st May- reviewing the progress of the subsequent Climate Change Action Plan, and filled in the CC tick box Questionnaire for public opinion,  I would like to suggest that cabinet members (if not all councillors) be advised on the employment of Mini-Publics, otherwise known as Citizens Assemblies (CA’s)- this recommendation is in response to what I have perceived as:

Continue reading “Citizens Assemblies: open letter to julian German, Leader of Cornwall Council”