Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Policy-makers and the Public

Looking  to the gathering of District Councillors and Officials together with local civic groups at the Futures Forum at the Anchor Inn next Tuesday
Futures Forum: "Development for Sustainability": details and poster for meeting 24th September
we can look forward to genuine and positive engagement between 'policy-makers' and 'the public'.

Unfortunately, there is the common perception from 'members of the public' which all too readily treats politicians in general and councillors in particular as 'the enemy':

I went to the meeting to try and get people to listen to someone (me) who has shown leadership and co-ordinated successful campaigns against development in my ward. I was shouted down because I had the nerve to suggest that the best way to positively influence people was not to insult them and tell lies about them – which is precisely what is happening to KR and BW. I was treated as the “enemy!!!” A few people were prepared to listen, many were not and until such time as the self appointed people running S work with their councillors and stop treating them as the enemy, the only party that will benefit are Ws.
And, unfortunately, the perception can work the other way: across the political spectrum and across the land, there is the notion that politicians in general and councillors in particular view 'the people' as 'the enemy':

Time was, too, that most parish councillors saw themselves as servants, not masters, of their community. Today, the majority of those who work in every level of ‘public service’ seem to regard the public, at best, as an inconvenience and, at worst, as the enemy.

Leaked emails have revealed the leader of Tunbridge Wells council's true opinion of his constituents - branding them "the natives". Conservative Councillor Roy Bullock MBE spoke of "keeping the natives happy" when referring to the public.

Here in Poole our council see us as "the enemy", we are here to be spied on, dictated to, tricked with devious speed camera's and charged extra at every opportunity. I am also not one of those who thinks the grass is always greener, I think we are blessed in Poole with great hospital workers and good schools.

All the other parties seem determined to view ordinary voters as 'the enemy' - to be cajoled, persuaded, nudged, disciplined, fined or imprisoned if we fail to knuckle under to government policy however bonkers it may be.

Again, it seems to be a matter of trust and transparency - which, unfortunately, appears to be lacking in many a relationship between the public and the politician:

"Just when you think that F has thought of all the ways to make the Council less transparent and accountable, he finds another way of keeping everything secret and making it more difficult for us to hold him to account."
More Secrecy at Wokingham District Council under the Tory Administration, say Lib Dems (Wokingham Liberal Democrats)

Rarely do politicians or bureaucrats see the necessity of being open with the residents they govern about financial matters. We are expected to trust on faith alone that our well-meaning rulers are being prudent and judicious with the cash we stump up every month.
Comment: Taxpayers deserve much better than secrecy and excuses (From Watford Observer)

See also: What the CEO said to the clerk and the chairman of a parish council and other atrocity stories | Sidmouth Independent News

In May 2011 the new District Council in East Devon gave this commitment on communication and consultation:

"'Seen' is about perception and reality and is all about effective communication. All too often we read that EDDC doesn't listen, doesn't care, sits in an ivory tower – the list goes on. Whilst the election results speak for themselves, we need to enable better lines of communication. The cynical view of the last Government – decide, consult, do it all anyway – is not my approach".
All change as EDDC elects new leader and top team – including Exmouth councillor | Exmouth People

See also: “All too often we read that EDDC doesn’t listen …decide, consult, do it anyway, is not my approach.” Who said it? | Sidmouth Independent News 

The District Council has a clear policy on consultation:


Have you ever thought about getting in touch with us to find out how you can become involved in Council services that affect you? We engage with residents about many different things using a variety of methods to reach the people whose views we are seeking. We are committed to engaging with users of our services and stakeholders in the setting and prioritising of our objectives, so that we deliver our services cost effectively and how, when and where our customers would like them. Engagement is an integral part of promoting a strong local democracy. When we engage with you, although we listen to everything that is said to us, we remain the ultimate decision-making body, whose role it is to balance the differing needs of members of the community.
East Devon District Council - Have Your Say

And indeed, the District Council puts out its policies for consultation:

The New Local Plan

The East Devon New Local Plan (2006-2026) has now been submitted for examination. To view the submitted plan and supporting documents please view the Local Plan submission webpageThe Plan has been through 5 stages of consultation. The Publication Draft of the Local Plan which was published for consultation in November 2012 is the version that has been submitted for examination along with a schedule of minor amendments. EDDC is now consulting on Proposed Post-Publication Changes to the Local Plan from 23 August 2013 until 12 Noon on 7 October 2013.
East Devon District Council - Planning Policy (inc LDF & Local Plan)

See also: Futures Forum: Local Plan: Consultation on Proposed Post-Publication Changes

However, there are concerns about the nature of the District Council's consultation processes:

The Villages Development Plan is due to go up for public consultation this autumn, in which strategic sites for development should be determined. There is a severe danger that decisions will be made on one, if not both, of these developments before this consultation has taken place or the plan adopted.
Feniton Super Inquiry to be First Test of Revised Guidance on Prematurity #NPPF | Decisions, Decisions, Decisions
See also: ‘Super Inquiry’ for Feniton to be held in 2014 | Susie Bond

The AONB management group says in its forward that they have “agreed that a light touch review should be undertaken and not a wholesale change to a strategy that is working well and delivering positive outcomes across the AONB”Does that sound somewhat to you that they have drawn their conclusions BEFORE consultation rather than AFTER!

On the EDDC website, on the Elizabeth Hall FAQ page, it is asserted
that EDDC have engaged in a "...properly conducted extensive
consultation process...."
Few Exmouth residents consider that the consultations have been
genuine, scientific or valid surveys or questionnaires . Further,
the local consensus is that EDDC, and in particular Dep CEO R
Cohen, have made a number of interpretations that cannot be
substantiated by the sloppy data collected. (a prime example being
that the last 'consultation' justified Mr Cohen claiming that the
town supported the demolition of Elizabeth Hall when no such
question was asked)
For any/all consultations made by EDDC to have any true validity
they would need to have been conducted by one or more members of
staff who have qualifications in Research Methods. 'Research'
carried out by unqualified amateurs and without demonstrable
validity should not be the basis for the future of Exmouth or any
other town.

Qualifications of EDDC staff to carry out consultations - a Freedom of Information request to East Devon District Council - WhatDoTheyKnow

See discussion thread at: exmouthvision | The vision for the future of Exmouth
Last few days to give your views on Exmouth Splash | Exmouth People
The clock’s ticking for public opinion…. | Exmouth Beach Blog

See also: Futures Forum: Concerns about transparency and lobbying continue in East Devon: pt 4
Futures Forum: Probity, accountability and transparency

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