Wednesday, August 29, 2007

On being left out of the debate

After the lunchtime Eucharist today, Ian my city centre mission co-worker handed me for perusal a copy of the Council's draft policy document on licensing premises for entertainment and alcohol consumption in the city. It's published for a two month consultation period before being adopted. It's a good and reasonable document, significant in that it's now proposed to cap the number of licenses to be issued for premises in St Mary Street - the epicentre of the capital's party culture playground. It's clear there is a strong intention to contain by legislation the problems public debauchery causes for the reputation and running of the city, and the welfare of its citizens. Although the welfare of its citizens frequently seems to come second in order of priorities.

What's significant about the document is that the list of fourteen 'consultation partners' does not include any religious organisation, nor any organisation concerned with the social and medical consequences of alcohol abuse. Admittedly, if you ask teetotal evangelicals or Muslims, you are going to get a pretty negative critique of the whole scenario, in which economic prosperity whether localy or nationally, seems dependent upon alcohol sales revenue (and its taxation), regardless of the damage this may inflict.

Even so, teetotallers for whatever reason, are also tax payers and citizens whose quality of life is impaired by the feeling that the city's streets aren't freely and safely accessible during weekend evenings, because of appalling behaviour, no matter how well policed (and it is well policed), of foul mouthed, lewdly dressed people acting in chaotic and unstable ways, to their own merriment if nobody else's, and to the detriment of the public realm. Yes, it's easy to forget and omit form the consultation process severe critics of the status quo, but this denies the possibility that there might be constructive innovative ideas out there among those who are unhappy with the way things are, which everyone can benefit from.

The way it is, religious organisations if informed, can read the policy document and submit responses to the policy makers right up until October 1st, if they know about it, if they can be bothered, if they aren't already convinced that they have both a right and a duty to make their voices heard. Really, the Council should see it as their moral if not legal duty to canvass all shades of opinion, however difficult. But they don't. And far too many religious communities seem to be so self-preoccupied, that they are equally responsible for allowing this 'democratic deficit' to increase.

I hope our Spiritual Capital research project can make some sort of difference in this area.

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