There goes another way of representing constituents
One of my pet hates is the gradual erosion of councillors' and MPs' powers to advocate on behalf of individual constituents.
This started with the new Licensing Act, which stopped councillors from initiating campaigns against licensing applications from premises in our wards that might be causing a nuisance - we can react if approached first by residents but are no longer allowed to spot a licensing issue and prompt residents to object to it.
Now, I learn that the Traffic Management Act 2004, which defines how local authorities must now run their parking enforcement operations, came into force on 31 March 2008. Under the Act councillors and MPs can no longer become involved in representations against penalty charge notices (PCNs). This includes forwarding an appeal on behalf of a constituent. So, if a constituent comes to me, or their MP, asking us to make representations on their behalf, we have to say no.
It's frustrating enough for members of the public to deal with officialdom. But when the law actually starts banning elected representatives from helping constituents who come to them for help on these issues, it must be doubly frustrating and alienating.
Surely those of us elected to public office should have the right to exercise our own judgement about when and when not to make representations on behalf of a constituent - and our constituents should have a right to expect us to advocate for them - not have the policy areas where we are allowed to do this constrained by law?
Where is this going to end - will it become illegal to intervene in housing cases, or about library fines, or about school place allocations, or about immigration cases?
What is the point in the ward/constituency representative role of councillors and MPs if we are not allowed to speak up for individual residents on any subject they want our help on?
These kind of constraints particularly hurt the most socially excluded. The articulate middle classes can often write letters, submit appeals, turn up to committee meetings and speak etc. themselves. People without the confidence or communication skills to do this - perhaps because they are intimidated by officialdom or English is their second language - rely on councillors and MPs to speak out on their behalf when they feel something has been mal-administered or might adversely affect them.