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countering the spin and providing the balance


Listening Day 2006

Weaving the RulesIt's tempting to snipe about Fylde Council listening only on one day a year, but we're going to give that a miss, and rate them 9/10 for effort in organising a formal record of what people think. There seems to be a genuine desire to let folk have a say and, even though people were limited by being asked a set of specific questions, (and in some cases interviewed by those with axes to grind), the results of such a study must have some value.

That makes the lack of willingness to act on the results of Listening Day (or as it's now known - Community Listening Day) all the more poignant. 

Having put so much effort into the thing; having taken the trouble to stand in the cold and hear the gripes and grumbles, you'd think it would form a basis for more direction than simply "communicating the results widely to partners and staff"

But perhaps that's the difference these days - counterbalance expects to be represented and have our view taken into account, the Politburo wants to lead us. So if they just listen - without doing anything about what they hear - it's enough.

So what were the results of all this listening?

Well, the sample size (1559) is big enough to iron out most statistical variables. 

The geographic breakdown of interviewees was broadly representative of Fylde's profile, albeit perhaps a little "St Annes heavy." 

The demographic profile was also similar, though it suggested Fylde is now even more heavily skewed toward older people than at the time of the last census in 2001. 

Ethnicity was also broadly similar to census results. 

So we can have reasonable confidence that the findings are representative.

So what were the findings?

Overall, people were less satisfied than last year. 

In response to this overall question 87% were very or fairly satisfied with Fylde as a place to live. (That's down from 90% last year).

However, some of the individual scores paint a blacker picture. Satisfaction with shopping tumbled by 9%, and satisfaction with leisure facilities, and facilities for older people each fell by 7%, followed by parks and open spaces where satisfaction fell by 6%.

The only increases in satisfaction were Education (which FBC does not control) up 2%, and Planning up 1%, where severe staff shortages meant that much less than usual was done. (Maybe there is a lesson here)

The lowest overall satisfaction with facilities were with those for young people. 

One question asked how satisfied people were with their ability to influence local decision making. 

Only 29% were satisfied (down from 36% last year), and almost 60% were dissatisfied (up from 45% last year). 

This is both the Achilles Heel and the key problem for the present administration. Taking New Labour's line rather than the one promoted by their national party, Fylde Conservatives warmly embraced the Politburo Cabinet system that concentrates power into too few hands and has destroyed the local democracy that most people expect to see. This is the lowest satisfaction score reported anywhere in the results.

But visitors saw things differently. 96%  said they would recommend the area to others. 

Visitors were also asked about how they came to Fylde. As might expected, cars dominated the results, with 78% of people arriving in a car. Only 19% came by public transport.

The report says that visitors don't see parking as a problem. 87% said they found it easy to park. 

It contrasts this with residents, where only 46% of residents were satisfied. 

The report goes on to say "this could be explained by the historical, but unsustainable, trend of lenient parking".

If you think about this quote for a minute, two words stand out like flashing beacons - lenient, and unsustainable.

"Lenient" - what a strange term to use. It means "mild" or "gentle".  It implies that things should be much more stringent, but thanks to the mercy of the Commissar, we are being treated gently. 

If that is what they really believe, it shows the danger in concentrating power in few hands. If parking enforcement at present is considered "lenient", ( when worshippers at the Catholic Church are booked on a Sunday morning by wardens watching and waiting for the service to start -  then things have reached a pretty peak).

But the really strange word is "unsustainable". 

Quite how lenient parking enforcement can be "unsustainable" is beyond us. 

It looks as though Queen Elizabeth of Kirkham spotted the same curiosity. 

At the Politburo Cabinet meeting that considered the listening day report she was not allowed to speak (even as an elected councilor) - because the Commissar's rules of democracy only allow his handpicked acolytes to speak at Cabinet -  but she took the trouble to submit an advance written question asking what "unsustainable" meant. She also noted that  "A lenient parking scheme is a system which brings more people to our towns to shop and enjoy leisure time" 

Dim Tim from "Streetscene" answered for the Politburo. He chuckled as he said he welcomed the question, adding that "in an ideal world we would all like free parking" but that is not a sustainable position. 

He cited the example of GRE using parking spaces when car parks were free, and he thought that users should ensure they pay the costs of parking. 

He conveniently forgot to mention, of course,  that we pay for parking provision already through our Council Tax, and that businesses pay again through the business rates they pay on top of their council tax charges.

He also omitted to mention the Commissars biker friends who get a special free use on a Monday evening in St Annes. 

He concluded by saying ideally he would like to provide free parking, but that would mean charging for other facilities that are not currently charged for.

So with this Politburo, it's plain that parking is about raising money.

But there is a serious point underlying all this froth. 

The provision of parking facilities is to do with traffic flow, road safety, and perhaps the attraction of people to town centres. It is certainly is not, nor should it be, to do with income generation.

But that view no longer holds in the brave new world of Fylde's Politburo, where money-grubbing at every opportunity is needed to mask the financial incompetence, mushrooming overheads and non-productive costs that now grossly diminish what is available for service delivery.

If Dim Tim's second brain cell could be activated for a moment, he might realise that if parking used to be free, and public buildings were repaired and painted, and parks were well kept from the public purse, and bins emptied every week, and leisure facilities expanding rather than being closed, and playgrounds being renewed, and toilets kept open, and streets swept regularly, and events and attractions like the kite festival, county cricket match, car rallies, and international sand yacht championships staged throughout the year, then in real terms, they can't be costing  that much more now than they did then. 

He might realise if you waste literally hundreds of thousands of pounds on aborted consultancy work, and set the wrong priorities and fail to keep proper checks on spending, you won't have the money to provide the services we are used to expecting.

He might also realise this is why the listening day results are going in the wrong direction.

However, this doesn't seem to bother the Politburo too much. They know there is a word of difference between listening and acting.

That's probably why the report concludes "There are no recommendations in this document other than those below. Specific data should be considered by the service provider and the report should be used by management, members and employees as a key reference document to support service planning and new initiatives"

In reality this means "We've listened but we're not really going to do anything about it except use the data selectively to support unpopular policies"

In case you think counterbalance is being unfair, have a look at their recommendations on FBC's website. In summary, they are:

  1. Communicate the results internally
  2. Communicate the results to the public
  3. Engage in additional research if needed
  4. Reflect key findings in strategic documents, specifically the Community Plan and the Corporate Plan (Note here that the Politburo reviewed their Corporate Objectives at the same meeting and decided no change was needed!)
  5. Ensure that any resulting improvements to services are communicated directly to the public to demonstrate their real role in influencing decision making and service delivery process.

Almost all the measured results were worse than last year, and only 29% of people are satisfied with the democratic process, yet the politicians in power don't see the need to change anything.

They really must think we're as thick as a workhouse butty.

Dated:  28 January 2007


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