How do you get Croydon Council to listen?

At the end of January the new Croydon Debating Club discussed ‘How do you get the Council to listen?’

The discussion was introduced by Conservative Cllr Sara Bashford, who steered clear of Party politics. Also taking part was Labour Councillor  Joy Prince, Athe Chair of Croydon UNITE trade union branch, Andrew Kennedy, and myself.

What follows is the text of the agreed notes.

Context

  • Councils must spend carefully, which involves compromise and difficult decisions, even more difficult when, as now, money needs to be saved

Briefing introduction

  • It isn’t compulsory, but councils are usually elected on a manifesto
    • Is it different if the consultation is on a manifesto commitment
    • Is there then a higher threshold so we are only being consulted on HOW rather than WHETHER?
  • Within council decisions there are layers
    • The Croydon Plan classifies land (e.g. Green Belt) limiting options for land use, then planning permission is required
    • Where is the most effective place for the public to intervene?
  • Everyone wants more housing but many are reluctant to have it built next door to them
    • How do we reconcile local concern with the wider public good?

Consultations where the plan was changed

  • Special educational needs places in schools
  • Library closure programme

How decisions are made

  • Councillors rely heavily on council staff, especially where they aren’t expert
    • Many decisions are effectively made by council officers
    • Is this the right relationship – it sometimes feels like council staff run the councillors rather than the other way around?
  • No options for debate, just the answer, which is then stoutly defended
    • Things get party political very quickly
  • The public are often upset by the way things are said and the disdainful treatment, of questions being dismissed or not responded to
  • Few young people, tend to be same vociferous people all the time
  • Seasoned campaigners get very down, feels like you never win though sometimes you do

Influencing decisions

  • Get in early before minds made up
    • Organise and lobby your local councillor
      • Some may be poor but most want to hear from constituents
    • Residents Associations or your own interest group is a good way in
  • How do you get in early? Council web site is poor, hard to find anything
    • No decision road map. Even hard to find things you know are there
  • Decisions are supposed to be evidence based – ask for the evidence
  • Residents Associations are the go-to people. They don’t exist in some areas, especially in the North of the Borough. They need to be set up.
  • Specialist groups can have an impact by dealing directly with council, e.g. provision of school places for children with special educational needs

Council staff

  • We need to encourage ambition, improve quality, attract the best staff
  • We need the best person for every job but especially senior roles seem to come in from outside and don’t live in the borough
  • Council staff should reflect the ethnic mix of the borough. Not enough BAME, especially black people in senior positions
  • Decreasing staff levels make it slow/difficult to change
  • Natural wastage offers some opportunities

Questions

  • Could the executive model be the problem?
    • Former committee model better than the all-powerful leader model?
  • Young people scrutiny committee worked well. How can we extend?
  • The public are not invited to pre-planning meetings which is an opportunity to get in early – why not?
  • There is now a process for petitioning the council. How does this work?
  • How can we make it easier for the public to find out what is going on so they can exert influence before minds are made up?
  • How exactly do you lobby your councillor?
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About seancreighton1947

Since moving to Norbury in July 2011 I have been active on local economy issues with Croydon TUC and Croydon Assembly, and am a member of the latter's Environment Forum. I am a member of the 5 Norbury Residents Associations Joint Planning Committee, and a Governor of Norbury Manor Primary School. I write for Croydon Citizen at http://thecroydoncitizen.com. I co-ordinate the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and Croydon Radical History Networks and advise the North East People's History Project.. I give history talks and lead history walks. I retired in 2012 having worked in the community/voluntary sector and on heritage projects. My history interests include labour movement, mutuality, Black British, slavery & abolition, Edwardian roller skating and the social and political use of music and song. I have a particular interest in the histories of Battersea and Wandsworth, Croydon and Lambeth. I have a publishing imprint History & Social Action Publications.
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