Agenda item

Consultations in 2016


The Director of Strategy, Communications and Customer Service presented the report which was in response to a request by the Committee.  Appendix 1 provided a list of all the consultations from 2016.


Councillor Duffin asked how long it took to respond to the Residents’ Survey.  The entire survey took approximately 15 minutes.


Councillor Duffin asked how the £3000 for the consultation regarding the change of election process had been spent.  Members heard that the cost was for communicating with residents via newspaper adverts, posters, an advert on the Council’s facebook page and a leaflet which had been included with every Council Tax bill.  It was queried how useful the facebook advert had proven compared to cost.  It had only cost a few hundred pounds, but the ‘reach’ of the advert was not known and would be provided outside of the meeting.


Councillor Duffin enquired as to what made value for money as some of the consultations received less responses from residents than there were elected Councillors.  Certain consultations were very targeted towards specific audiences, while some were much wider.  The Communications Team promoted consultations wherever possible, via the media, community hubs, and even directly through Councillors but residents could not be forced to participate.


Councillor Duffin also asked whether the £7000 investment into the consultation portal had been value for money, as there were online survey generators that did the same for free.  The Committee heard that the portal was more than merely a survey tool; it also facilitated petitions, generated reports and provided a database that officers could access in future.


Councillor Liddiard expressed his view that, given the number of responses compared to the size of the population; he would be uncomfortable relying upon 80% of the consultations to make decisions.  Councillor Gamester interjected that one consultation had received only one response up until February and asked whether there was a better way to ensure the Council obtained statistically relevant data.  For some decisions the consultations were not the only source of evidence, there were also workshops and other engagement activities.  The Residents’ Survey had been undertaken by an external market research company with a methodology to ensure the 1000 residents polled were representative of the make-up of Thurrock and there was confidence in the results.  Officers would be mindful of how valid responses were.


Councillor Duffin asked if consultations generally cost around £3000 or whether the election consultation was an exception.  Members heard that a case would be put forward for each consultation.  The consultation regarding the elections process was borough-wide and open for 12 weeks to allow residents to have their say, which was a long time.  For more targeted consultations, such as for housing tenants, letters would be sent directly which was a far less expensive process.  Borough-wide consultations also varied in expense, with far more being spent on the consultation regarding the Local Plan.


Councillor Watkins asked whether BMG Research might be used to conduct all borough-wide consultations as they did with the Residents’ Survey.  He queried whether the numerous residents with whom officers interacted on a daily basis were ever asked why they weren’t responding to consultations.  BMG had also conducted the staff survey.  The option could be considered but it would depend upon cost and the type of consultation.  The possibility of asking residents was a good idea and would be taken on board.


Councillor Liddiard queried whether volunteers in the community hubs might assist with undertaking consultations. He also raised concern about skewed responses to surveys, he recalled a survey within Tilbury where residents highlighted that they wanted a swimming pool and improved bus services, with no reference to the homeless residents or the shortage of GPs in the area. The want versus need was not reflected.  The Director of Strategy, Communications and Customer Service agreed it was necessary to manage expectations. Volunteers in the hubs could be used to ask residents the questions; however BMG offered experience and independence which were positives.


Councillor Duffin sought clarity as to how many consultations were the result of requests from Committees and how many were Officer-led and how much they were used in the decision making process.  The Committee was informed that there were some consultations which were a statutory duty.  The Council had a responsibility to conduct consultations in cases of service changes, and some ongoing feedback mechanisms were used to make tweaks on a day to day basis.  Other consultations were the result of Overview and Scrutiny Committee recommendations and steers from Portfolio Holders, dependent upon the issues.


The possibility that residents were reluctant to participate because they saw no real change as a result was suggested.  Members heard that there were usually higher levels of response to issues with a direct impact.  The way results and outcomes were fed back to residents could be improved.  Councillor Duffin requested that, where possible, residents were emailed to inform them of the outcome of consultations in which they participated.


The Chair noted markedly different methods used in varying consultations.  The consultation in light of the Local Plan was very good however the questions asked in the Residents’ Survey were not so open.  When asking which areas were most important Adult and Children’s Social Care, Housing and Improvements to Education were not included.  The Chair expressed his disappointment and asked how this was justified.  The Committee was advised that the Residents’ Survey focused on universal services rather than more specialist areas which many residents would not have accessed.  Similarly the survey was not the only source of data for the Council.


Councillor Duffin queried who was responsible for the wording of questions, as to his mind one question regarding the Local Council Tax Scheme offered two very harsh options and he could understand residents being reluctant to participate on those terms.  BMG had created the Residents’ Survey using their experience and guidance, input from other Local Authorities and the Local Government Association benchmark questions.  For non-statutory consultations the services responsible framed the questions with assistance from the Community Development Team and the Communications Team.  The survey in question had been developed alongside other councils.




The Committee noted and made comments on the consultations undertaken in 2016 in Appendix 1.


Supporting documents: