Thursday, 7 February 2008

YouGov Referral Scandal!

I always said I wouldn't be the sort of Councillor who only pops up at election times, but would do my best to keep my ward residents informed about goings on in the Hartlepool Council Chamber. Not being in receipt of a "Communications Allowance" like the MP or having the benefit of a weekly column in the Hartlepool Mail like the Mayor (and the MP, again) I have limited opportunities to do this. I try to write fairly regularly to the Hartlepool Mail and Northern Echo Letters Pages and offer both the Mail and the Echo local stories when I can. However, with both these newspapers the Editorial policy decides what they use and what they leave out.

Visiting all areas of the ward as often as I can is also a priority but considering it runs from the Heugh right through to Central Estate and across to Baker's Mead it is difficult to cover it all as often as I would like. The other problem with visits is that you spend two hours talking to three or four people and no mater how often you do that there are always hundreds of others who claim to never see you. However, them’s the breaks!

About the only way I can see to make some contact with all residents is by producing a regular newsletter. I spend over £1,000 a year on printing and distributing my newsletters. That is £1,000 of my own money. There is no Council allowance or public subsidy to produce this newsletter. Probably the fact that you have to put your hand into your own pocket is why very few other Councillors bother with producing one.

This week my Spring 2008 newsletter is being distributed through letterboxes in St.Hilda Ward and so far I have had a reasonable response. Most people, even those who would burn in hell before they would vote for me, seem to appreciate the effort and of course they can have the satisfaction of ripping the newsletter to shreds (maybe after they have read it?). However, one irate resident was sufficiently incensed to e-mail me, (twice, and write to the Hartlepool Mail), about a snippet I put into the newsletter regarding the "YouGov" Opinion Polling Organisation.

I have included a link for people to sign up to the YouGov Panel should they wish to participate in their surveys. This link is a "referral link" as that is what I am doing, referring people to YouGov. YouGov themselves suggest using this link. There is no charge to anyone who uses this link but I do get a credit for anyone who signs up. I think its 50p in vouchers but I'm not sure as I've never actually received a "pay out" as you have to amass £50 in credits before YouGov send you anything.

The lady in question has e-mailed me twice. The second time to tell me she had written to the Mail but wanted to get my comments on the use of a referral link in my newsletter. I look forward to reading her letter, which I noted she said she had already sent! If this is the case then nothing I say to her afterwards is going to make the slightest difference is it!

From her reaction to the use of a referral link I assume it would it be fair to say she must consider the other issues raised in the newsletter to be trivial or unimportant? The loss of democracy, police forums, collapse of the fishing industry, closure of Remploy and the cynical manipulation of the Hartlepool hospital Site must to be insignificant compared to the possibility that I might make 50p (in vouchers I think!) from someone joining the YouGov Panel as a result of my referral.

Ah well, another vote lost. (Or more probably another vote I never had, and now never will!)


  1. Funnily enough, I received your newsletter through the letterbox yesterday, and have just read the bit about the YOUGOV link within its pages. Actually, it looked quite innocent and unassuming. In fact, you appeared to be doing people a favour by offering this information.

    The irate lady who contacted you seems to have an issue with the fact that you might be getting something out of this link, a personal gain, by way of vouchers.

    In the past, I too have used this technique myself - not YOUGOV, but an independent site. It was purely for personal gain... vouchers/points make prizes, that sort of thing. Unfortunately, as is usual in these cases, the surveys sent to me to take part in were few and far between, and the criteria set for the rewards for sending back responses far outweighed any potential financial benefits. Some where so lengthy I couldn't be bothered, others asked such irrelevant questions that they didn't even apply to me or my opinions. It didn't take me long to get sick of the whole thing and I simply ignored them. I now have about 4,000 points floating around in virtual space somewhere, probably with a cash value of about 10p!

    And speaking of 10p, I was surprised the same said irate lady hadn't picked up on this regarding your newsletter. As can be noted from the front page, the newsletter costs 10p (where sold).

    In other words, if I hadn't had one of these newsletters dropped though my letterbox for free, I would have had to trudge round the shops to find one that sold these and pay my dues. A missed opportunity for the irate lady, indeed!

    Keep up the good work Stephen, it's nice to see a fresh and honest Councillor (of whatever party) putting some bite back into the system and rattling a few cages at the same time - they deserve it!

  2. Hi Six,
    Thanks for the comment. It's been a while since anyone called me "fresh and honest" but Politics seems to be more about who wants to pull you down than build you up. By qualification and training I am an Engineer and Project Manager so I just can't help manipulating figures and looking for potential pitfalls. If you identify problems early you have a chance to minimise their impact or even negate them completely. Unfortunately this is seen by many people as negative so I regularly attract the ire of other Councillors (and the Mayor) for daring to question things. The Tall Ships Race being a good example. I am 100% behind it coming to Hartlepool but at a cost of £3,000,000 and rising? Surely a cost benefit Analysis is required here? When I asked for one I was told 1,000,000 people would visit the town and £50,000,000 would be the benefit to the local economy. Asking how these figures were arrived at I was told they were the figures Newcastle used in 2005 when they hosted the Tall Ships Race. So there you are; Hartlepool Docks vs. Gateshead/Newcastle Quayside, the two venues are obviously directly comparable......NOT!

  3. Most excellent points one and all on the Tall Ships issue! But there are also other issues here that don't sit well with me on a broader scale.

    The Council of this town, it's Mayor and even MP would appear somewhat out of control in their various pursuits of 'putting Hartlepool on the map'. Examples here for me would be their ambitious (and possibly contentious) plans for the huge new Metro Link development, the Steetley Chemical site ongoing drama, the redevelopment of the poor standards of many buildings across the area, the nuclear power station debate, ghost ships, tourism/retail/business/industry (take your pick - they all seem important to those concerned) the expensive footbridge link from Hartlepool to the Headland and, naturally, their commitment to get the Marina area and docks developed into a show-piece for the town, along with many other ideas.

    In my book, they are trying to bite off more than they can chew at this stage. With major investments such as these being put on the table for inclusion all the time, I get the impression that they have this urge, or dream, to develop the town into a flagship town to be proud of and attract the right interested parties. Which is all well and good when looked at from the surface. But the ball seems to be gathering momentum in this bigger picture, and they are beginning to get swept along by their own ambitious plans.

    However, all of this comes at a price, as well as a time limit. They are trying to achieve this 'new' town redevelopment too quickly, with little regard to any sort of realistic budgets, technical details, understanding of these things, or any sort of surveys or evaluation reports that should be prepared to actually see if the ideas will work, not just for the various events they are looking at directly, but to the future sustainability of Hartlepool once the initial excitement has blown over. Will these dreams of development still work for Hartlepool in a realistic way that are self-sustaining and profitable ventures for the town afterwards? Or, and to cite an example here, will they simply be a 'Jacksons Landing' pipe dream that again falls by the wayside?

    Sure, we need to attract investment and interest into a whole range of areas - attracting new people to live here expanding the workforces, and the work needs to be there in the first place to attract these people, so they have to be attracted to the area , whatever industries, commercial or reatil sectors or otherwise, they are. Sort of like chasing tails, or chickens and eggs. But at the end of the day these need planning and prioritising properly. It takes a lot of time, planning finance and long-term viability for these ideas to achieve fruition, even at a basic infrastructure level - you can't expect all this to happen overnight (or two or three years in some cases) and bang! - 'here's our new town of the future!'. Often these things take many, many years, until you end up with a model that works and everyone is happy with. Along the way, there are many re-evaluations, adaptations or adoption of new ideas, or discarding of the unworkable ones. A town should grow successfully through generations, not whole new ideas delivered in one relatively short period in the hope that it will all come together and actually work.

    Sorry for the ramblings, but this is how I am seeing the bigger picture in all of this. And, has been noted elsewhere in other quarters, the focus of all this seems to rely on the hopeful success of the Tall Ships race. The time agenda for getting this completed as a major portal of interest in Hartlepool has triggered many of these other ideas. But, as I said, are the powers-that-be taking on too many ambitious projects to satisfy the criteria for a 'new' Hartlepool?

  4. Please don't stop "rambling" lol

    The root cause of the problem is, in my opinion, that there is no "vision" for Hartlepool beyond making it a "Cleaner, greener and more pleasant place to live" which of course no-one can argue with!

    The Council is being operated on a reactive strategy not a pro-active one. The Tall Ships, for example, only came to Hartlepool because the organisers contacted the Council to ASK if the town would like to host the race. Of course once the race bid was successful then everyone claimed it was part of a long term strategy!

    The Ghost Ships are now here to stay and there will be many more ships dismantled over the coming years. Surely the time has come to make the most of a bad job? Similarly we NEED a new nuclear power station in Hartlepool, but is the Council actually doing anything about it? Not that I am aware of!