26 June 2011

Residents' forums - a.k.a. Shut up and sit down.

Mr Mustard must firstly apologise to his readers that he has neglected his duties in the last week. He left the mustard alone but had rather too much sauce, red & brown ( beer after wine and you'll feel fine just is not true, mind you there is no mention of quantity ! ) and so at 5pm when he should have been thinking of firing up the motorbike and blasting, MetPro style, on his high powered motorbike at 30mph to Coppetts Wood Primary School for the residents' forum he was instead "sniffing the pillow" as the custom is in Poland apparently.

Having read the other bloggers' reports & the local papers Mr Mustard finds that he made the same contribution to democracy in Barnet that evening as did the Councillors and Officers who were on the top table at the Residents' Forum i.e. none at all.

Mr Mustard had not been idle however. Back in April he saw which way the wind was blowing and as it is a democracy Mr Mustard sometimes manages to find the time in his busy schedule to send helpful letters to Councillors and Officers to let them know how one Council Tax Payer is thinking. 

( He wrote to the Chief Executive, Mr Nick Walkley, once saying that Barnet Council could usefully join the Plain English Campaign and didn't get a reply. Mr Mustard was relieved as the answer would probably have been interminably long and he wouldn't have known at the end whether non-stick Nick was in favour of the Plain English Campaign or not - he suspects not, having heard him holding forth at the Audit Committee. You set out a long list of items that could have been to blame Mr Walkley - you forgot at least one - yourself; please remember at the next crisis that you are in charge and occasionally that means saying that something was your fault. You will find it quite refreshing if you try it. )

Anyway before the meeting of 14 April of the Special Committee (Constitution Review Meeting ) Mr Mustard took the trouble to write to all of the participants with his thoughts. This is what he wrote:-

Dear Sir / Madam

I note that you will also consider the future format of Residents' Forums tomorrow evening.

I have read the relevant papers. I agree that the current format could be improved.

I am shocked. There are 331,000 residents in the borough and you are asked to base your decision on Appendix C which is the result of two 90 minute focus groups with just 16 residents.

This is simply not enough residents to consult. You don't get a proper view of things by asking 16 residents especially amongst 16 of whom it was said "There was very little awareness of Resident (sic) Forums" .

You haven't consulted residents who actually attend the meetings ( and you know who they are as an attendance register is signed  ) you don't seem to have consulted bodies such as the Barnet Residents Association and or any bloggers ?

I think that Residents' Forums do need to be radically changed and that you have not considered a much better way of doing things which would truly be democratic.

I think that the issues that bother people are either local ones that may only affect a few people or major ones that affect the whole Borough or a sizeable minority of residents.

Lets take out the small local issues first. They should simply be dealt with locally by ward Councillors.

Only major issues should be discussed at a monthly borough wide Residents' Forum. The poster for the last meeting is attached " It's your meeting. You can put questions, debate items and set the agenda ". That's not a description of the meeting that I recognise.

My proposal

So here is my proposal. If it truly is the Residents' meeting then let the residents run it; they can organise their own Residents' Council ( with individuals from organisations such as the Barnet Residents Association, The Barnet Society, Friends of Barnet Market and others from across the whole Borough ) set their own agenda and invite the Councillors and Officers that they wish to hear from. A monthly meeting, held in suitable Council premises, which would only cover the 2 or 3 most important issues ongoing in the Borough at that moment.

This would be more cost effective than any of the other proposed changes, requiring only 12 meetings a year and very little cost .

I do hope that you will add this proposal to the ideas being considered.

Please note that I am only interested in attending as an ordinary resident. I am not interested in sitting on any committees ( or in becoming a Councillor !)

Yours sincerely

Mr Mustard

To whom did Mr Mustard send this useful advice; to all the Councillors sitting at the meeting of 14 April or on the reserve list, and the Officers whose names were on the report that was going to be discussed, as follows :-

cllr.j.scannell ( email deleted unread )
cllr.j.cohen ( a polite thank you received from Cllr Cohen )


So there we have it; what Mr Mustard thought was a thoughtful and well thought out idea to increase democracy merited one thank you from a Councillor who was unable to be at the meeting ( and he did pass on the email to his substitute ) one copy deleted unread and absolutely no response from everyone else. Mr Mustard would not have minded if they had all written back picking holes in his idea; that would be constructive debate and an outing for democracy. Well Councillors, you have now seen what happens when you try to stifle simple questions which residents would like an answer to. At the new style forums, see Mr Reasonables' blog,
or Mrs Angry's blog, about Swinging in Barnet
If that was not what you expected I expect you can find the wife swapping site if you just google it; if there is a Councillor swapping site lead me to it, I'd like to swap mine for something useful like a Swiss Army knife for getting stones out of horses hooves, or a bottle opener ( maybe not as I'm only now sober )

So Councillors next time Mr Mustard writes to you, and he is even busier than you are so back off on the self importance please, why not take the trouble to reply with one or two lines picking holes in his argument, assuming you can think of any. Please be aware, if you use numbers, they will be thoroughly checked.

And the bad news is that you are not going to get away with cancelling democracy; the real Residents' Forums will start later in 2011. 

Yours frugally
Mr Mustard

1 comment:

  1. hmm. I think you'll find that sniffing the pillow means something else altogether, Mr Mustard, no?
    Perhaps you don't have experience of swinging, Broken Barnet style.

    As for our lazy, good for nothing councillors, I think they need reminding exactly what they are paid to do, and that their duties include listening to the views of their voters. Too many councillors ignore emails: some have even been known to demdn that they do not receive any - this is simply unacceptable. If they want to accept their allowances, they must earn them. And how interesting that a year since it was promised, there is still no sign of any appraisal system for this bunch of ne'er do wells.


I now moderate comments in the light of the Delfi case. Due to the current high incidence of spam I have had to turn word verification on.