Tuesday, 28 August 2007

Is it better to attend anded but remained silent than to never have attended at all?

A website calling itself “High-Tax- Hartlepool” has recently published a table showing percentage attendance at council meetings over the past twelve months. Your truly is second bottom with a 7% attendance. The website has taken upon itself to arbitrarily assign 67% as “acceptable” and recommends I might want to examine the reasons why I became a Councillor!

Well it wasn’t to sit in endless meetings!

Attending formal meetings is the last thing on my priority list. I do more for my ward chatting with people over a coffee and bacon butty in the local cafe than in attending any number of meetings. I am a Councillor for several reasons, a key one being to provide a guide to assist the people of the ward when they need help with Council bureaucracy. I consider every almost formal meeting I attend to be a waste of my time unless it relates directly to my ward residents. (Actually with 17 wards that makes about 5.88% 0f business per ward so with 7% attendance I am above the level I set myself, just shows that you can prove anything you like with statistics!)

Other meetings might be worth going to if they are about a matter I am interested in or where my attendance can actually make a difference (in practical terms I never make a difference since the Labour Group Whip decides everything behind closed doors well in advance of any meetings I or any other none-labour Councillor am invited to).

Attendance at meetings is a total red herring when it comes to evaluating how good or bad a Councillor is at the job. However, it is an easy thing to measure and produce tables, graphs, charts, etc. High-Tax-Hartlepool is falling into the classic trap of equating being there with contributing. A Councillor who attends half a dozen meetings a year but contributes to every one and makes valid points on behalf of their constituents is a much better Councillor, in my opinion, than a Councillor who attends hundreds of meetings but who never says a word.

Unfortunately “Contribution” is not an easy thing to measure and so High-Tax-Hartlepool has taken the easy way out and is “monitoring” what they can easily measure rather than asking what the measurement actually tells them. Try producing a league table of Councillors who have asked questions of the Mayor or cabinet in full session and I suggest the tables would be completely different.

High-Tax-Hartlepool need to be careful what they wish for. If they succeed in driving out anyone they deem to be unacceptable because of their arbitrary attendance calculation then they could very well end up with a Chamber full of Councillors with perfect attendance records but no opinions or with any input other than that approved by their party political bosses.

Performance Indicators, Targets and Tables have been a major contributor to the mess we are in now in this Country. I think web-sites like High-Tax-Hartlepool can be a useful mechanism for discussion and I have contributed to this site myself in the past (I no longer do so, but that’s another story), but they do need to think things through before they get on their high horse and start pontificating about issues like this.


  1. Dear Steve,

    I personally know that you are one of the most able Councillors on HBC. If I was a resident and had a grievance I would be happy for you to fight my corner, however, I must disagree with your point that all Council meetings are a waste of time.

    Other than meetings what other process is there available to Councillors to have their opinions heard in a format that is recorded and can make a difference.

    I personally believe many meetings would benefit from your presence and opinion. I suspect you will come up with a suggestion for a different way of running the Council, however, we are where we are not were we would like to be.

    I read your blog and enjoy it.


    Geoff Lilley

  2. Dear Geoff,
    Thank you for your comment on my blogg, apart from a family member you are the first person to respond to my rantings. I don’t think I said ALL Council meetings are a waste of time, just MOST of them. I look at the Agenda for the various meetings and if I have something I want to contribute I go to the meeting and say it. If I don't have anything to say then I don't go. I am totally opposed to “present”eeism (as oppose to absenteeism) being a measure of how good or bad a Councillor is. It’s quality that counts not quantity!