The results of the frankly bizarre and utterly meaningless Barnet Council business plan, budget and corporate plan consultations have been published in the cabinet papers for 20 February. The on line budget consultation attracted only 25 responses. It does say that “Due to the small sample size the overall findings should be treated with caution”. Perhaps “chuck it in the bin” might be a more suitable response.
Then we come on to the corporate plan consultation. This consultation asked people to prioritise what services were important to the community and to themselves. At least this consultation attracted more response - 109 people. Yes out of the 350,000 residents of Barnet, the council managed to ‘engage with’ 109 people to fill in the consultation. To bolster the results they sent the consultation to the 1,000 members of the Citizen Panel of which 491 responded. So in total we have a total of 599 results, hardly confidence inspiring.
I criticised the survey when it was first published as being meaningless and I would suggest my forecasts were quite accurate. People were asked to pick the eight most important services provided by the council to them personally and to the community as a whole out of a list of 28 services. Not surprisingly people rated services that are important to the community very similar to the services that important to them personally.
Refuse collection was significantly the most frequently mentioned service as being important to the borough as a whole (54%), followed by community safety services (49%), repairs of roads and pavements (48%) and street cleaning services (41%). However, around half of respondents did not indicate that these services were one of the most eight important services for the Council to focus on for Barnet as a whole, indicating opinion was divided. So what on earth does that tell you. Absolutely nothing!
Much worse, it goes on to say, “Perhaps the most surprising finding is that many of the services that seek to support the most vulnerable were not reported as being of the highest importance by respondents. Namely, Support for adults with a physical disability (13%, ranked 24th =), Support to adults with a learning disability (13% ranked 24th =), Support to family carers of adults (12% ranked 26th) and Fostering, adoption and children in care (11%, ranked 26th).”
So what conclusion can they draw from that. Are these essential services for the most vulnerable to be dropped because 599 people didn’t rank them highly enough. I have an acronim for this type of meaningless question. SFW (So F****ng What).
Interestingly, when they asked people about areas where the council could save money the top answer was Review salary and expenses packages for 'top' and senior council Employees closely followed at joint third place by Review remuneration and expenses of councillors.
They also held what they call a deliberative event where 74 people from the Citizens Panel were invited to ‘deliberate’.
And at the end of it all, what conclusions did this extensive and probably very expensive consultation exercise. Ain’t got a clue and how on earth this can inform the decision making process I simply do not know.
Perhaps the council should stop messing about with these pointless, crass and utterly inconclusive consultations and just start engaging with the community. Try listening to people at residents forums – where we were forbidden from discussing the budget consultation and stop wasting our money.