Thursday, 24 January 2008

Talking Together

Last night was the second Talking Together roadshow event in the central area, this time in Albert Hill. The discussion forum, amiably chaired by Cllr Harker, had about 18 adults and a dozen children present. Some of the primary school kids asked questions first, which officers dealt with, in varying degrees of child-friendly language!

When the adults took over, the discussion heated up with a long list of complaints about traffic, play facilities, anti-social behaviour, roads and pavements, blocked gullies and the like. Tellingly, much as we heard at the previous event, there is a perception that areas like Albert Hill and North Road, dominated by small terraced housing, with a mixture of owner-occupiers and privately rented accommodation, suffer in comparison to the larger Council estates, like Skerne Park, in terms of community facilities.

Also of interest was the number of residents who complained that they had been in touch with "the Council" but had no response. It seemed that few, if any, said they had turned to councillors for support or help in getting answers from "the Council". Maybe we need to promote the role of councillors as "champions of their community" more effectively.


miketually said...

"Some of the primary school kids asked questions first, which officers dealt with, in varying degrees of child-friendly language!"

I hope that means the answers were complex, rather than that they said bugger or suchlike.


Anonymous said...

What you don't tell us Councillor Barker is what the answers were.

In your opinion are these sessions pointless talk or any the Council actually seeking ot provide solutions or improvements.

On another point 4.9% rates increase is one of the highest in the country why is this the case when service cuts feature so highly in the press. What is costing us so much more when inflation is judged at 1.9%

Mike Barker said...

No, I don't think these sessions are pointless talk - though, as I have often said, here, in the press and in Council, they don't go far enough. "Talking" has to become "empowerment", with local people and their ward councillors taking decisions about service provision and planning in their local communities.
I think these sessions are valuable in that they expose senior officers to the views of local residents. Certainly at the Albert Hill meeting the officers often defended their decisions and tried to explain why something was done, or something else couldn't be done, but also in several cases they promised to go away and look at certain things again.
I don't think they do much to widen democratic input into he Council, but they do force officers to confront the views of local residents about specific local services and amenities.
As for the 4.9% Council Tax increase, and the proposed cuts in front-line services, the Council are blaming higher than expected costs in the provision of services, particularly adult social services. It is also the case that central government is tightening the screw on local government finance.
The period of public "consultation" is underway, and the views of the opposition parties will become clear during the next few weeks and at the special Council meeting to consider the budget proposals.
What we can ask at the moment is why, since these factors are common to all local councils, is Darlington faced with such a big increase and service cuts?

Anonymous said...

Alan Macnab writes....

Good point Mike about the trise in Council Tax and cuts in services.

The roadshow comes to Whinfield on Wednesday at Whinfield Primary School 6 p.m. Daft starting time. Most people who work outside of Darlington will be coming home from work and having their evening meal at that time, but never mind. Ours is not to reason why...

I intend to ask about the mixed message about the cuts in Trading Standards especially the enforcement of preventing sales of alcohol to underage drinkers which Trading Standards are responsible for. If I read the budget proposals correctly the Council want to hive this off to a call centre miles from Darlington.

The litter bin in the children's play area in Springfield Park was full of beer cans, the entrance to the play area was marked by broken glass and a wine bottle lay nearby.

ian holme said...

Agree with Alan re daft starting times.
Hurworths was held on the evening of surprise there was a small turnout.

I did attend the event held at Middleton st george recently. It was very sensibly held on the saturday morning, and therefore got a very good response.
The meeting was conducted in a positive manner, (both by public & cllrs)and was certainly beneficial.
However, we will have to wait and see if any actual notice is taken of residents concerns. If in 12 months time all of the same issues have to be raised again, the cllrs may not be so positively received.

miketually said...

6pm would be a perfect time for me as it would get me out of bathing the kids :)

Remember, Council officers need to attend these events, usually outside their normal working hours, so the hours need to work for them.

Whatever time the events were held, some people wouldn't be able to get to them.

Anonymous said...

Alan Macnab writes.

I attended the Talking Together event at Whinfield. Nick's blog gave an accurate description of the event and the issues raised.

Yes it was positive and beneficial having different bodies present and talking over some of the issues.

I hope that they are not a one off event. There was no indication when the next sessions will take place or how these events relate to the Parish Councils, Residents Associations or Community Partnerships. I think it is important for the links to be established for continued dialogue.

Further sessions could perhaps be held on the same evening as Parish Councils, Residents Associations or Partnership Meetings. Then the issues can be raised and addressed once and feedback obtained on the issues raised previously. It also raises the profile of these bodies.

Mike Barker said...

Alan's comments about links with local groups are apposite. There are no apparent links with these organisations: and frankly, precious little role for local councillors either.
These are major weaknesses in the "Talking Together" roadshow. These events are all about senior councillors and officers dropping in on a local church hall and then disappearing back to their Feethams bunker.
They are not about extending local democracy or involving local people, councillors and community groups in democratic decision-making.
Community Partnerships play no role in these events. If CP's were to be supported properly, and linked in to devolved decision-making to local councillors, this would do more for democratic involvement than the Talking Together roadshow does.