Monday, 6 August 2007

Consultation, Consultation, Consultation

As a Councillor I spend huge amounts of time "consulting" with my residents. I prefer to do this over a cup of tea in my local cafe but this of course doesn't tick any boxes on the CPA Assessment which is so beloved by the bureaucracy of local government. I therefore hold regular ward surgeries, too which almost no-one ever comes and every six weeks Hartlepool Council holds a North, South and Central Neighbourhood Forum. Each has a Chairman, a Councillor who receives a “special responsibility allowance” for doing the job and each forum lasts half a day. Take out Councillors, Council Officers, Resident Representatives and people present to make presentations and the average attendance at these forums must be close to zero.

So, why have forums. They use huge amounts of Officer time in preparation. Tie up Officers three mornings every six weeks actually attending the meetings. They cost money to hold, cost money for clerical support to prepare and distribute minutes, agendas, etc and all three tell the same story, three times, to a small group of people, most of who have already heard the presentations in other meetings. So, what do they achieve? Well they allow three Councillors to claim extra allowances and they tick a couple of “Consultation” and “Local Engagement” boxes on the Checklist for “Excellent” Status.

If the box ticking and Excellent Status is actually worth it then why not just have a single “Town” forum. This immediately saves two Councillor’s Chairman Allowances, reduces wasted officer time by two thirds (allowing them an additional day every six weeks or around a week a year!) to do something useful, reduces time and cost for clerical support, again allowing these people to do something useful. Save thousands of pounds and reduce none value adding activity!

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