Reading through the State of the Borough Report which can be read in full here, one thing caught my eye. On page 8 of the report it states:
“Participation and localism
Barnet residents feel less involved in Council decision-making than residents of other London boroughs (39 per cent versus 50 per cent) and 60 per cent of citizens believe that the Council does not listen to their concerns. However, a greater proportion of residents are satisfied with opportunities for participation than in previous years (50 per cent versus 29 per cent in 2008-09).
The local blogging community has expanded during 2010-11. In the last six months, almost 1,000 stories about Barnet have been posted on local blogs, and roughly 300 tweets make reference to Barnet (the Council, the place or other areas within the borough) every day.
An active and involved citizenry should be regarded as a valuable asset. The challenge for the Council and its partners is how to engage productively with residents to develop a balanced dialogue using new channels".
So there you have it; a clear admission that an active and involved citizenry is valuable to the community, and a challenge to engage more productively with us. What makes this statement all the more ironic is the report from Barnet’s most eloquent blogger, Mrs Angry about the shenanigans at last night’s Finchley & Golders Green Residents Forum where the views of “active and involved citizenry” in attendance were completely overruled!
I think there is something very strange going on at the Council. It’s an almost schizophrenic approach to the residents. Some officers recognise the value that bloggers bring and are helpful and constructive; others treat us with nothing but contempt. Likewise for members.
I would urge the more recalcitrant officers and members to embrace this view that there should be a more balanced dialogue but to do this the council needs to start building a relationship of trust. The change in format of the residents forum is just one example of where the trust is currently sadly missing in the relationship between citizens and the council. If the Council are serious about engagement then a sign of good faith would be to sweep aside the draconian and undemocratic changes made to the residents forums and to engage with local groups as to how the forums could be made much more effective.
PS, as a footnote the statement that “a greater proportion of residents are satisfied with opportunities for participation than in previous years” should be treated with a little caution given the survey methodology has changed fundamentally and in the full version of the Residents Perception Survey Report it comes with a big health warning stating, “Caution should be applied when making direct comparisons to the former Place Survey due to the different methodology”.