This is how South Ribble and Chorley councils will consult residents from now on
South Ribble and Chorley councils have set out how residents will be consulted over major decisions affecting them.
The neighbouring districts – which share many of their back office functions – have each adopted the same blueprint designed to ensure consistency in the process each time locals are asked for their opinions.
The cabinets of the two authorities approved a new consultation framework, which states that council staff must be clear about what it is they want to find out, consider the best communication methods to encourage responses and evaluate the results properly so that they inform the decision to be made.
Although there will still be some variation in how individual consultations are run depending on the issue concerned, each one will usually now include equality monitoring questions as standard to ensure that the views of all sections of the community are being heard.
Respondents will be asked – although not obliged to answer – questions about their age, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion and marital status.
The deputy leader of the Conservative opposition group on South Ribble Borough Council told a cabinet meeting of the authority that he disagreed with such “enquiries into people’s own business”.
Cllr Phil Smith added: “I think it starts a consultation off in a very bad way. We’re all equal, we’re all the same – [a] consultation should be designed so and it shouldn’t identify these sorts of areas.”
However, South Ribble’s Labour leader Paul Foster stressed that the questions were “optional” and designed to ensure that “a representative sample of our community is consulted”.
“When the samples aren’t representative…we can then target certain areas and perhaps do some more work,” Cllr Foster said.
He added that residents had recently become “more engaged” in the consultation process and said that was largely as a result of “the correct use of social media”.
South Ribble’s cabinet member for finance, Matthew Tomlinson, said that the new process would mean councillors who disagreed with a decision would no longer be able to claim that “the consultation was rubbish”.
Under the new framework, council staff will have to give feedback to people who have engaged in consultation exercises “so that they understand how their feedback influenced decisions and [in order to] encourage future participation”.
At Chorley Council’s cabinet meeting where the matter was considered, leader Alistair Bradley said of the changes: “We do have to plan [consultations] and undertake them in a way that would be expected of a council, because… if you undertake poor consultations, you end up with poor decisions, because the evidence base is not correct.
“[The new framework] is very similar to what we have done previously – as you would expect, we have tried to do things properly and correctly before,” Cllr Bradley added.
WHEN COUNCILS CONSULT
Councils are obliged to hold a consultation when:
***creating or changing a service;
***making planning decisions.
Chorley and South Ribble councils also engage with their communities on some occasions when: