Thanks to the new Lib Dem-Conservative coalition now in charge who are trying to bring in a culture of openness and accountability there’s currently a public consultation on next year’s budget.
I asked a question of the Lib Dem leader at last night’s Prenton and Oxton Area Forum as to whether the consultation would feed into the capital budget (the money used for investment eg new schools, new pedestrian traffic lights) as well as the revenue budget (which is mentioned on the front of the questionnaire).
He confirmed it would. This gives an excellent opportunity for the public to feed their views into the budget process and despite Labour’s criticism of the process; a chance for all voices to be heard rather than just the ruling parties.
Whatever method of consultation was used, there’d be criticism. However I am pleased that (like the You Decide consultation last year) this is also being done using an online survey.
Last night Wirral Council officers also detailed how they’ve been trying to reach hard to visit groups; whether by knocking on doors or visiting supermarkets. Although as pointed out yesterday, short of an insert in the free newspaper or writing to everyone, not every member of the public can be reached, over 1% of the public have returned one. Considering the average turnout in this year’s election was 65% and in some places only 26% of the public decide vote for their elected representative; who are there to represent all their residents (not just the ones who voted for them), I think this consultation is an excellent way to gather people’s views.
Labour have called for public meetings; as there were over the library/community centre/leisure centre closures. However at the one I attended in Birkenhead people were turned away as the venue was full. At least with a questionnaire everybody’s views can be taken on board. Also from what I remember the meeting started with a rather long presentation on the strategic asset review leading to the audience getting more and more livid.
Public meetings are best when they involve the audience and give members of the public a real chance to influence decisions. As mentioned above, when in some areas 74% of the electors haven’t voted for who’s representing them; how are their views taken on board when councillors often feel that people who didn’t vote for them can be ignored?
There were similar issues raised about the You Decide consultation; however I genuinely think that involving the public in decision making can only lead to better decisions being made. As pointed out last night, ultimately it is councillors who will all together be making the budget decisions for 2011/2012 next March. However I have heard at least one Labour councillor say openly in a public meeting (and one of another party privately) that they didn’t even read the budget they were voting on.
After the fiasco that was the library closures; I hope the new administration has learnt those lessons and fully takes on board the views of the public (who pointed out well before the budget was set in a public meeting at Wallasey Town Hall that Wirral Council hadn’t adhered to the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964).
On a sadder note, I heard yesterday evening that Mr. Garrett had died (about a month ago). He was the secretary of the Wirral Transport Users Association and on the Merseytravel Advisory Panel. He was a staunch champion of public transport and as Cllr. Pat Williams described enthusiastic. He will be missed.