Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Barnet council's budget consultation meeting cancelled!

I can't quite believe this news, which I chanced upon on the Barnet council Facebook page (!). The actual text is from the associated press release:
Barnet budget event this Thursday cancelled

Barnet Council has cancelled a scheduled consultation event for the evening of Thursday, 11 November to discuss the 2010-11 Budget.

Only four people have expressed an interest in attending despite two weeks of advertising in the local press. We also personally invited those people who expressed an interest in budget consultation on our facebook site.

Councillor Daniel Thomas, Cabinet Member for Resources and Performance, says: “Interestingly we’ve had more responses online for the budget consultation than ever before. This has been though our Barnet Ideas website, which has had 4000 visits and over 1,000 votes for the 187 ideas suggested. This shouldn’t come as any surprise. I think people are much more engaged in talking about individual services and their experiences of the service than they are about talking about the council as a whole.

"The success of the ideas website shows that people are interested in discussing the specific council services they use and often have strong opinions about them. We have already had 400 responses to our Library Service consultation and have just completed our consultation on housing allocations. But there seems to be less interest about talking about the council in its entirety.

"We will continue to run a series of very specific consultations about services, including the library service and adult social care. But this says to me that we need to look at more imaginative ways to engage with residents than simply expecting them to come to a council building on a cold November evening.

“I will personally ring each of the residents who expressed interest in attending and discuss the budget with them. We have also now added to the site so residents can also comment on specific budget options.”

On Wednesday, 10 November over 70 local residents who make up Barnet’s Citizens Panel will be meeting to discuss the budget.
I'm sure what councillor Thomas says about the success of the Ideas website is a gross exaggeration (more on that will come out soon, I believe).

However, what really astounds me is the lacksadaisical attitude to event planning. I have learned over the years that you do not cancel events because you suspect, without really knowing, that only a few people will show up. I am quite sure that many people will have noticed that this event is happening, put it in their diaries and plan to come - without realising that they are supposed to register for it first. That's the way things are.

Many people will have mentioned it to friends or neighbours, without mentioning that they must register first.

A discreet notice advising of the cancellation on Barnet council's Facebook page and a press release on its website will not reach all the people who might turn up. Please note councillor Daniel Thomas's words: "this says to me that we need to look at more imaginative ways to engage with residents than simply expecting them to come to a council building on a cold November evening".

Yes, but it's one way to engage, isn't it? And you've just cancelled it! One little bit less engagement, plus a handful of determined residents changing their plans and making their way to the town hall on a cold evening - only to find they have had a wasted journey. This all adds up to a complete shambles.

And who is it really that doesn't fancy a cold evening in the Town Hall meeting the public? Is it you, councillor Thomas?

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