Stephen Williamson reflects on the Council’s approach to consultation.
Over the years one of the complaints I have frequently heard is that the Council consults residents about this, that and the other but never tells them what the result of the consultation was. Maybe, that’s changing…
The report on the Council’s budget – all 64 pages of it – to be considered on Friday by the Executive Board includes 13 pages on the outcome of public consultations on the budget. The report says there were 2,747 responses with 20% of these coming from the south of the city. Overall, respondents thought that if reductions had to be made, they should be focused on Culture and Leisure services, and economic and planning-related services.
Respondents gave child-related services proportionately the lowest ‘budget reductions’. In terms of where charges could be increased there was overall support from respondents to charging for bulky household waste collection.
In terms of other comments received the most common issues raised were:
- Concern at perceived cost of council workforce (‘senior managers’ in particular) and associated expenses, pension costs etc.
- Concern at perceived cost of having three elected members per ward / perceived levels of remuneration and expenses
- Reducing the number of/cost of running council buildings
- Reducing the frequency of bin collections
- Charging (more) for popular events e.g. Party in the park, bonfires
- Better prioritisation and targeting of council resources
What is not easy to see is how the outcomes of the consultation has affected the proposed budget, particularly regarding the “other comments received”. Part of the problem, of course, is that respondents have differing opinions but another part of the problem is how you ask the questions. The Council constructs its budget on a directorate basis which means it focuses questions on which services people think are priorities. It does not naturally lead people to comment on the cost of those services or how efficiently they are delivered. It will be interesting to see if the Council produces a brief report indicating how consultation affected the budget particularly on non-directorate issues. Despite some scepticicism, I have no doubt that where significant numbers of people raise concerns about particular issues e.g allotment and bowling green charges, or Middleton Park Golf Course the Council pays attention.
There are currently eight Council consultations under way. If you are interested or concerned about any of the issues then it makes sense to respond. If you don’t it significantly weakens your argument when you don’t like the outcome.
One of the aims of South Leeds Life is to encourage people to get involved in the local community in all sorts of way – what is now sometimes referred to as “active citizenship”. Responding to consultations is one way of doing this. You might enjoy it… You never know, it might actually help change things…