The Legal and Democratic Services Manager:
(a) Presented a report which provided the Ethics and Engagement Committee with an opportunity to consider the methods by which the Council engaged with the public, assist with the review of the Council’s Consultation Strategy and provide any comments to help shape engagement with communities in the future.
(b) Explained that the Public Sector Equality Duty meant that the Council must consider all individuals when carrying out its day-to-day work in shaping policy, in delivering services and in relation to their own employees. It was noted that this required that public bodies gave due regard to the need to:
- eliminate discrimination;
- advance equality of opportunity;
- foster good relations between different people when carrying out their activities.
(c) Referred to the Council’s Consultation Strategy which was appended to the report and highlighted that this would undertake a review in June 2018.
(d) Outlined the Council’s general consultation tools, which included:
- the Citizens’ Panel;
- the Housing bi-annual Star Survey;
- customer mystery shopping and customer services surveys;
- other Events Team led surveys or questionnaires, such as the Lincoln Christmas market;
- elected members.
(e) Set out other examples of engagement with communities such as the Corporate Peer Challenge, the Lincoln Tenants’ Panel, the Lincoln Leaseholders’ Forum and tenant empty property inspectors.
(f) Invited members’ questions and comments.
Confirmation was sought as to what the five different aspects of contact were, as referenced in paragraph 3.4 of the report in relation to the Citizens’ Panel. It was noted that the five aspects of contact would be the usual ways in which the Council made contact with people when seeking their views or feedback which were anticipated as being via hardcopy letter or form, telephone, email, social media or in person.
With regard to a lack of responses when consulting with the Citizens’ Panel, a question was raised as to whether any action was taken to remove people off the Panel should they fail to return the Council’s questionnaires. It was agreed that this would be taken up with the Council’s Policy Team. Members noted that the Policy Team was currently in the process of reviewing the membership of the Citizens’ Panel to ensure that it fully reflected Lincoln’s society.
In terms of promoting engagement with the community, the new Central Lincoln Bus Station could provide opportunities via its large screen to promote the Council’s engagement activities with a view to generating more feedback and responses.
A comment was made that people had different definitions of the term ‘consultation’, with most residents being more likely to respond to and make comments on matters relating to planning or service delivery. It was recognised that good consultation and engagement aided effective decision making but it was accepted that there had to be a balance, noting that some consultation was statutory. In addition, there were difficulties with perception where it could come across as though the Council was doing its own thing but had to undergo consultation as part of the process, rather than it being a meaningful exercise that would influence the final outcome. Further to this, Birchwood Leisure Centre was put forward as an example of a consultation that focused on the changes proposed from a physical perspective, rather than focusing on what people may want to use the Leisure Centre for. Officers noted this point but highlighted that the Council was continually improving the way it undertook consultation with the public. The recent consultation on the Council’s Neighbourhood Working service was put forward as an example where engagement had made a significant difference to the final outcome in that the initial proposal was changed as a result of the responses received to the first phase of that particular consultation.
Reference was made to the recent Select Scrutiny Committee meeting which had considered a Call In of an Executive decision relating to the Western Growth Corridor. The press and public had been excluded from the meeting due to the commercially sensitive content of the report. It was agreed that officers would in future consider whether reports could be amended in such a way that enabled members of the public to be in attendance.
A member reported a recent issue she had dealt with following consideration of a licensing application whereby a relatively large number of residents did not feel as though their points of view had been taken into consideration. One of the potential barriers was that officers and members understood the language and processes associated with applications, such as licensing and planning, whereas members of the public did not necessarily have that same understanding which made people feel powerless and unable to contribute effectively. It was suggested that a threshold could be put in place so that if a certain number of objections were received against a particular planning application a more targeted consultation exercise could take place to more effectively engage with those people and better understand their views, which it was felt would make a huge impact as to how the Council was perceived.
It was important for the Council to be explicit in its communication with members of the public regarding the possible opportunities and limits associated with proposals included as part of any consultation activity. This would ensure that people’s expectations were managed from the outset. It was agreed that there was more work to do in this respect and that it should be taken into consideration as part of the Consultation Strategy’s review.
RESOLVED that the report be noted and the comments made by the Ethics and Engagement Committee be fed into the review of the Council’s Consultation Strategy.