Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Big Conversation - we're listening

The Big Conversation is well and truly under way. 1,200 questionnaires have been returned already and it runs till the end of the month. I have never known any consultation the council has conducted that has achieved this sort of result.

I am really pleased it has because it shows just how much local people care about public services and how they understand the difficulty we as councillors have responding to the cuts the government is planning.

But it’s not just the questionnaires it’s the chance to talk with residents. Last Saturday we took the Big Conversation to Kings Road. Some people wanted to talk to us about other matters – parking, dog fouling and individual concerns they had – and that’s fine. But overwhelmingly people appreciated that we were consulting them. Many had filled the forms out already, others did on the spot. There are other dates and venues coming up and they are all on the council website. Do come along if you want to chat to us.

But what about those thorny questions:

How much has it costed and where’s the money come from? Writing to every household has cost £17,000, but how else do you really reach everyone. The money had already been put in this year’s budget by the previous council leadership. They wanted to employ an outside company to do detailed market research interviews with 250 residents. I would rather speak to 2,500 and do the job in-house.

Are you really going to listen? We will publish the results of the Big Conversation, so when we finally set the budget everyone can see whether we listened. But in determining the budget we will also be looking at the priorities we put before the electorate back in May, the exact financial position which we don’t yet know and the implications of decisions – no point in cutting a service only to find it costs more somewhere else.

There’s not enough detail, especially on cost of services. There’s only so much information you can get into a four-page form and anything bigger might have meant less people would have had the time to read it. If anyone wants more information let us know, either in person at the Big Conversation events or E-mail bigconversation@hastings.gov.uk

Haven’t you already decided what you you’re going to do, like closing the Information Centre? The suggestion that we are just going to get rid of an information centre and the staff in it is utter and complete rubbish. I guarantee we will be keeping an information centre in the town and staffing it. There has been a discussion about whether we could relocate it. But when we are looking at spending cuts we would be wrong not to consider options. No decision has been made on possible relocation and I very much welcome residents’ comments as part of the Big Conversation.

Isn’t the council overstaffed, so why not just cut the numbers? We will have to look at every council service whether it is a statutory or discretionary to see if it can be provided more efficiently. The Big Conversation asks for comments on particular services and how much residents value them. They are all of course provided by council staff. Reducing any of those services means reducing the council staff who provide them. The question is what services are most essential or most valued.

Any other questions just ask away but most important use the Big Conversation to let us know what you think.