Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Big Talk, Big Questions

#rdgpol - As part of coordinated efforts to encourage greater engagement with residents Reading Borough Council recently announced a new initiative to create a direct feedback channel to Council officials and councillors under the strident headline: "Difficult times, big questions…We need to talk!"

Respondants will be encouraged to discuss the "difficult decisions facing the council in the current economic climate and give local people the chance to have their say on the future of their local services," as pressure mounts to plug a £19m budget gap.

You can fill in the online questionaire.

According to the council statement this marks "the beginning of a new relationship between the council and residents."

After 12 months out of office Labour has returned with the announcement that "the new Council administration believes that Council services can work better and be more responsive if the people of Reading are more involved in how we run them," adding, "We believe it is more important than ever to listen to people’s views on how the council should spend your money."

Councillor Jon Hartley, Lead Councillor for Service Delivery and Improvement gave the official comment,
"You can help us to transform the way the council operates, so it more effectively responds to your views and those of your community, and so that Reading remains a great place to live."
However party colleague Cllr Rachel Eden thinks Cllr Sarah Hacker says it better when she describes the consulation as "a new parternship and conversation with residents."

Supporting his daughter Cllr Chris Maskell argues the initiative fulfils their election promise 'to work more meaningfully with people' as leaflets are distributed around leisure centres, libraries and various other council community spaces alongside the dedicated web-area on the council site.

Cllr Jan Gavin reprints the same post pro forma-style, highlighting a series of promises to 'listen to what you say, publish what you tell us provide, feedback to you on what you have said, ensure your community’s views influence our decisions and keep on talking to you as we go forward'.

And veteran representative Cllr Bet Tickner states the intention to get input from the public over a period of months and years has already produced some fresh ideas, concluding that "there is more we can do."

Yet an undercurrent of scepticism remains throughout the contrite enthusiasm with efforts to allay fears of an expensive paper exercise: "this is much more than a one-off consultation."

Cllr Warren Swaine couldn't be less scathing about this 'spam-sham'.

He argues it is all about 'passing the buck' to avoid the political price of the 'difficult decision' between being unable to deliver on 'uncosted election bribes' while implementing options for workable cuts which council officers are currently weighing.

Worryingly he also points out some discrepancies between data protection disclaimers, which potentially indicates that personal information will be sold to third-parties for commercial or other reasons.

Leader of the minority LibDem group Cllr Daisy Benson offers the warning that 'laudable and popular' initiatives are often 'far from benign'.

She explains that Labour's partisan interest to satisfy particular groups permeate their decisions, but although this is an effective election strategy "it is not a recipe for good, ethical [governance]".

Indeed, she says she's seen how the results of Labour-backed consultations are decided behind closed-doors before they are started, raising questions about the full range of reasons for gathering the information and whether their claims of 'a fair, open and transparent process' are accurate.

...which may explain why former Labour-insider Jane Griffiths is gleeful at the prospect of holding her ex-colleagues to account.

Oranjepan asks:
In the two weeks since public release this blogger has yet to find articles giving a follow-up or any more details about promised events anticipated by the announcement. When will RBC provide more definite information?

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