Agenda item

Draft ‘A Listening Council: East Herts Council’s principles for information giving, engagement and consultation’ document

Consideration of the draft proposed set of principles governing how the council will inform, engage and consult residents, businesses and stakeholders. The principles have been set out in a simple, draft document titled ‘A Listening Council’.


The Executive Member for Resident Engagement submitted a report which provided Members of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee with the opportunity to consider and provide comments on the draft proposed set of principles governing how the council will inform, engage and consult residents, businesses and stakeholders.


In response to a query from Councillor McAndrew regarding the inclusion of the two agenda items, at the request of the Chairman, the Head of Legal and Democratic Services explained the processes involved before reports are added to an agenda. 


Councillor McAndrew also referred to the future development of the Work Programme and proposed changes. The Chairman assured Members that he was in discussion with the Leader regularly in terms of the Forward Plan and its impact on the Work Programme of Overview and Scrutiny Committee. 


The Executive Member for Resident Engagement welcomed the opportunity to discuss the document before Members.  He explained that the report had been driven by the low electoral turnout at the District Elections in May 2023 and the need to ensure that the council engaged in a more diverse manner with residents and at the earliest opportunity especially on key issues such as housing, planning, licensing in order to hear more diverse views. He said that the paper before Members addressed a new approach to engagement and consultation.


The Executive Member acknowledged the council’s past record and practices but felt that there was a greater opportunity to work in a more open and transparent, engagement process. The report before Members drafted a simple and straightforward set of principles which the council would follow when seeking to inform, and consult with residents, businesses and stakeholders. 


The Chairman made the point that the council worked in an open and transparent way and that the meeting was a public meeting. He added that the information was open to inspection but that residents will only be interested in what they are interested in.


Following extensive debate, Members felt that:


·               the role of Ward Members and the role of Overview and Scrutiny should be emphasised more in the draft document;


·               there was a need to ensure that people’s expectations were managed in an open and transparent way and of the limitations which may be placed on officers from the viewpoint of planning;


·               the document should reflect an ability to say “no” from the viewpoint of resources and budget constraints.  It was acknowledged that a forum was needed to hear what the community wanted whether this was a citizens’ forum or other tried and tested forums for public engagement to listen to views;


·               the views of young people must be reflected in the document, including an explanation of how these might be collated;


·               further information should be included on how the council’s policies would be amended to reflect the principles set out in the draft document.


·               the role of councillors working in their wards was acknowledged and there was a need to improve internal communication in the consultation process in working with, Members, Officers and stakeholders;


·               there was a need to reach out into other sectors of the community for example, for the LGBT community, disabled and those whose first language was not English;


·               there should be acknowledgement that the council worked with three tiers of local government i.e. Town and Parish, County and District and the need to ensure that work was not duplicated;


·               the culture of the council was changing and of the need to not only co-ordinate with Town and Parish Council groups but Neighbourhood Planning partners;


·               the principles in the document should become good practice and guidance for Officers and Members to follow;


·               the Council may have to invest to communicate and the pressure this may place on the council, including the communications team in being  able to disseminate information to different audiences in different ways. 


The Executive Member for Resident Engagement acknowledged that the document was a starting point and that there was a need to engage in a more diverse manner including with young people, the LGBT community, disabled groups and those who do not have English as a first language. He explained that it was about hearing views early on and being able to tailor the consultation to a particular circumstance. The Executive Member accepted that there was a need to consider limitations, expectations and the resources available.  Specifically, being transparent early in the process and explaining to groups what’s happening and making sure that the principles by which the council adhered to were heard by Officers and stakeholders. 


Members also felt that there was a need to:

·               ensure that the document did not impact on the council’s reputation from a risk viewpoint and to emphasise its limited resources;


·               to take into account potential cost implications if staff, Town and Parish council officers needing training;


The Executive Member for Resident Engagement said it was key that residents were engaged in the early stages and said by example, that the report on Air Quality was one such issue which he would have liked to have been consulted on.   He explained that it was for all Members to find better ways to consult with residents.


The Executive Member for Corporate Services referred to the need to ensure that documents such as consultation letters should be written clearly and concisely and without jargon as he felt that this was important to encourage public consultation. 


In response to a question from the Chairman, the Executive Member said that success would be reflected in better election turn out figures, speaking to more people more often and receiving less complaints from residents. 


The Chairman acknowledged that Members’ comments would be submitted to the Executive. The Chairman sought Members’ views on reviewing the draft document at a future meeting.  The Head of Housing and Health explained that it was usual for Overview and Scrutiny Committee to see a new policy after it had been through the consultation process. He said that what was before Members was a pre-consultation version of a policy document. 


The Chairman was concerned that the document as presented, indicated that the proposal would not impact financially on the council. He said that non-online data methods usually had cost implications and that this issued needed further thought. The Chairman accepted that there needed to have a formalised methodology to work with partners and stakeholders. The Chairman queried why it was necessary for it to be submitted to the Executive by the end of the month. 


The Executive Member for Resident Engagement explained that he was keen to get a set of principles together as soon as possible, so that both officers and Members had a document to work towards and that the document could be reported back to the Overview and Scrutiny Committee for further review if necessary and after comments from the Executive. The Head of Housing and Health suggested that this early review of the pre-policy document would give all Members and Officers a chance to feed into the process. 


The Chairman explained that at this point, Members were being asked to exercise their opportunity to consider the pre-policy and comment rather than being asked to endorse what was before Members. This approach was supported.


Members welcomed the proposal.  Councillor Buckmaster proposed and Councillor Boylan seconded, a motion that Members have acknowledged the opportunity to consider and comment on the proposal prior to its submission to the Executive.   Furthermore, that the report should be presented to Overview and Scrutiny Committee at a future date for review.


After being put to the meeting and a vote taken, the motion was declared CARRIED.


RESOLVED – that (A) Members have commented on the proposals as detailed above, prior to the proposal being submitted to the Executive; and


(B)   that the report be presented to Overview and Scrutiny committee at a date to be agreed for review.

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