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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

E-Petitions Offer 'Opportunity For Informed Debate'

Local authorities should not be dissuaded from launching e-petitioning services by the recent controversy surrounding the e-petitioning service provided on the Prime Minister's website, according to Bristol City Council.

The service on the Number 10 website, which launched in November 2006, has come under heavy attack from the media and some MPs on two widely different grounds: that it is a public relations exercise, offering the public no genuine involvement in policy issues, or that it paves the way for "mob rule".

Neither of these need be the outcome for e-petition systems run by local authorities, according to Carol Hayward, Corporate Consultation Manager at Bristol City Council. In the two and a half years that the Bristol system has been running, 60 e-petitions have been submitted, collecting a total of 20,000 signatures. The result has been improved policies, more transparent decision-making, and closer links between councillors and the community, she told E-Government Bulletin.

"It's been really useful for raising issues that councillors hadn't thought of, and for finding out public opinion," said Hayward. Unlike the Number 10 service, the Bristol e-petitioning system hosts online discussions, and is used by politicians as well as members of the public. Guidance on how to set up and run a similar service is part of a new e-democracy guide available from the council,


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