Solent citizens to debate and vote on devolution deal

Press release and invitation to journalists from the Democracy Matters project

Invitation to journalists:

Journalists are invited to attend this weekend’s ‘Citizens’ Assembly’ in Southampton – the final weekend of a major new democratic initiative.

Citizens from across the Solent area will debate and vote on the devolution deals going through in the region on Saturday and Sunday (14th and 15th November), as part of a ground-breaking democratic experiment.

Event details:

  • Venue: Macdonald Botley Park Hotel, Botley, SO32 2UA
  • Times: Saturday: 10:30-16:30, Sunday: 9:30-15:00
  • Interviews with participants and experts can be conducted on Saturday at 13:00 and Sunday 12:30, as well as from 16.30 on Saturday and 15:00 on Sunday.
  • Final votes on the devolution deal will provisionally be around 13:30 on Sunday
  • RSVP to [email protected]

Around 30 participants – selected by independent polling company YouGov to be representative of the area – will conclude the second of two weekends of deliberation and voting on the Hampshire and Isle of Wight devolution plans on Sunday. The weekend is being chaired by BBC South’s Peter Henley.

Citizens in the region are experimenting with a new way of doing politics, in response to the constitutional questions facing the UK.

Southampton is one of just two pilot areas taking part in the democratic experiment, titled ‘Democracy Matters’, alongside Sheffield. In Sheffield, citizens in the parallel Assembly for the South Yorkshire area gathered for their final weekend on the 7/8th November and voted to call for a much stronger Northern Powerhouse, and a Yorkshire-wide Assembly.

The Southampton Assembly will vote on similar issues – what powers they believe devolution should cover, what area the deal should encompass, and what they think of the existing devolution plans.

The last weekend in October saw key figures address the Assembly, including Councillor Stephen Godfrey, Leader of Winchester City Council, Steven Lugg, Chief Executive of the Hampshire Association of Local Councils, and Mike Smith, Director of Cities for Cofely UK and former Director of Finance for Southampton City Council.

The project stems from the growing feeling that devolution deals need democratic engagement in order to be sustainable and have popular support, and comes a year on from Scottish referendum – amid backdrop of huge constitutional questions, including English Votes for English Laws, House of Lords reform, the EU referendum and the localism agenda.

The Democracy Matters project has been organised by the University of Southampton, University of Sheffield, University College London and University of Westminster, in conjunction with the Electoral Reform Society, and funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

It is a major academic project, and the first of its kind. Organisers view is as a ground-breaking partnership between universities, civil society and the public. It is the first chance for citizens to properly engage with the government’s devolution plans, North and South.

Katie Ghose, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said:

“The Southampton Assembly is a very exciting democratic project to get citizens involved in the democratic future of their cities and indeed the UK. A year on from the Scottish referendum, it’s more vital than ever that the public – particularly in this crucial region for devolution – have a say on where they think power should lie locally.

“As the Government seeks to devolve powers towards local areas, they need to include citizens and not simply deliver their chosen solutions from above. This Citizens’ Assembly is giving local people the chance to come to the fore and shape the devolution agenda. Politicians in the region and across the UK should sit up and take note.

“The Assembly has so far been an exciting demonstration of the fact that people are more than capable of grappling with complex constitutional questions. By creating the space for citizens to inform themselves about the issues and debate with each other, the project has shown the potential for a new kind of democratic politics.”

Professor Will Jennings of the University of Southampton, Co-Investigator for the project, said:

“The Southampton Assembly is challenging the myth that people are disengaged from politics. When they are given the chance to assess a range of different positions and possibilities they do it with gusto. This marks an important contribution to the conversation about politics and democracy in this country.”

Professor Matthew Flinders, Principal Investigator for the project, said:

“The government’s devolution plans seem to be moving forward at an incredible pace, so finding new ways to gauge the views and opinion of the public is crucial. The Citizens’ Assembly in Southampton is therefore critical for shaping not just how we think about to the future of English governance but also how we ‘do’ democracy in these changing times.”


For more information about the Democracy Matters project in Southampton visit

Research Directors from four Constitutional Conventions from countries outside the UK have acted as project advisers.Read the biographies of the project team here:

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.


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