As everyone knows I’ve attended every single scheduled council meeting early since 2008, yes a glutton for punishment perhaps but you get to see a lot of stuff, some great, some not. As a reader of mine you will know that I am also passionate about community engagement and interaction. You will also know I have high praise for our community forums, at times the attendance may be as small (12 or so people) other times 50 plus depending on the issues of the day, but whether 12 or 50 are these people less valuable, don’t they count? Many turn up month after month after month and have done for many, many years, why is it that their input values less than that of a community stall?
So where am I going with this….? Last month at the council meeting a small item went past the councillors… DIRS 01 DRAFT COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT POLICY Page102 tab17
This item was calling for a review of the community engagement document; a regular item on the agenda of a new council… what most people wouldn’t notice was the mention of changes to the community forums:
Extract: the relevant piece is in italics
A further proposed change in the draft Policy is the model for community forums. At its meeting on 19 December 2011, Council resolved to deliver two community forums, the Urban and Rural Forums. These forums have been delivered since that time and their effectiveness has been monitored. Forum attendance remains limited to approximately 40- 50 people, with each meeting attracting between 10-30 people, and participants do not reflect local demographics.
Within the draft Community Engagement Policy, the proposed new model for the community forums incorporates an open forum for discussion and dialogue about specific issues. Forums are proposed to be held bi-monthly. They will remain open to all community members, and meeting locations will rotate across Liverpool, including the rural area. The forums will give residents an opportunity to provide input into policy issues and achieves greater efficiencies in delivering community engagement processes.
The draft Community Engagement Policy builds on the previous policy and aligns with international and industry best practice. It enables Council to continue providing ongoing formal and informal methods of engagement that encourage community participation.
There are no financial implications as a result of this report.
1. Places the draft Community Engagement Policy on public exhibition for a period of 28 days inviting public submissions.
2. Receives a further report on the draft Community Engagement Policy following the public exhibition period, incorporating public feedback.
Having read the proposed new document, the one on exhibition for comment I was unable to find where these proposed changes were being presented to the community – most significantly those forum attendees to comment on.
Councillors approved the recommendations and as most of them don’t bother attending forums either failed to notice or cared less of the changes… Cllr Harle is a regular attendee and I’m sure his latest collegial arrival in that of Cllr Shelton – who has attended 2 or 3 will no doubt proffer a different view. I know from experience Cllr Harle has on numerous occasions followed up through questions with notice on items he’s heard about via the community forums. HOW CAN A COUNCILLOR COMMENT ON SOMETHING HE OR SHE HAS NEVER EVER PARTICIPATED IN…..? Let alone offer some support for the local residents who are diligent in their participation. That said the 50% of the new liberal councillors and 25% of the Labor councillors pretty much never ever attended anything (community) in Liverpool (least of all a forum) until they sought your vote… watching their surprise as items are discussed in council that most residents are aware of through simple day to day activity – and where these councillors know nothing is in itself a sad state of affairs, but you get what you vote for they say.
That aside… as a resident, do you think if you attend a meeting on a regular basis you should be given the opportunity to comment as to their validity and purpose? Just recently the times were altered and the location of one, without any notice or comment of the same people, this has had an impact on attendance and I’m wondering now if that in itself was a ploy to again reduce numbers to support what can only be seen as a diminishing of their value to council. We originally have 4 forums, these have been whittled down to 2, without as much as a bye your leave of those people who do take their involvement seriously. The CBD forum used to be a business forum where local shop and business owners could air their views, voice concerns and find out what was happening in council… with enough chops and changes, most without discussion, the attendance at these dropped off… to be replaced by a CBD Committee that allowed only two business representatives to attend (I know I was one of them) where we presented to the committee the concerns we heard from the business owners and workers. This may not have been perfect but the gentleman and I who took our representation very seriously did at least manage to provide on the ground information to the committee…. oh and we did show up. Again not something all councillors could lay claim.
If we are talking about community engagement shouldn’t the engaged be at least consulted?
Is the idea of rotating the forums just another ploy to reduce numbers thereby justifying cancelling them altogether?
If by making them Bi monthly are we not forcing the attendance down by the inability of attendees to plan ahead and attend to issues in reasonable time?
Should we not value those who SHOW UP rather than dismiss them as unrepresentative (as old)?
On nearly all occasions I’m happy to support the council staff for on the whole they are a very hard working and diligent group, but on this issue I am concerned there is a very small number(and for the record I am not referring to the staff who actually attend) who are deliberately undermining the value of the forums, for what reason would only be a guess and I do hope I’m wrong, but in reality, other than Cllr Harle, the councillors themselves manage their months with little thought or consideration of the forums at all. I’m pretty sure they couldn’t for the most part tell you when or where they are held. From the minutes of other committees etc we’re barely getting a 25% turn up of councillors anyway. From what I’ve observed, and I do attend, there is a great deal of appreciation in the community when the council presents to the forums different issues and of course the opportunity to discuss and inform council on items of importance in the community.
As an aside it is fair to say that at times the forums can be a challenge, if not in attendance but certainly the management of them at times can be a task, however those staff who do attend do so with grace, good humour and commitment.
So who loses here…………….?
Council meets again on the 24th April at 6pm at the Francis Greenway Centre 170 George Street Liverpool, beside the Library. Please ensure if this concerns you that you do comment, however remember even if you speak at council against the changes or make comment on the draft it does not count in the submissions for consideration unless you lodge a written submission… a technicality that likely cost us No1 Hoxton Park Road. Submissions due Wednesday May 8th, 2013.
thats my view…what is yours…please feel free to comment.