Saturday, 5 December 2009

It's Just Numbers...

Been meaning to write about this for a while but was somewhat overtaken by real world events (see Tales from the Tribunal).

You might remember some stuff over the summer about the Sustainable Communities Act? It's supposed to allow local authorities the chance to order up specific local legislation for local conditions and lots of other things involving the word local. NCC did a consultation on it and the conclusions they have drawn from it are here.

The part of the consultation exercise that you are most likely to have seen was the website consultation questionnaire but that wasn't all there was. There were separate consultations with area committees, the Crime and Drugs Partnership's 'Independent Advisory Group', a number of community groups, a business breakfast and others. The collated results are in this MSExcel document.

Not sure what use the 'business breakfast' was, apparently there was "no opportunity for collective discussion and collation of views", presumably too busy stuffing their faces with Full English paid for by the taxpayer. I'm also confused as to how the IAG managed to provide 210 responses to each question seeing as it only has 14 members. Presumably close family and friends were included. This latter point takes on extra significance when you see how differently the various camps responded. The second biggest group of respondees came from the web consultation.

So lets have a look at how the different groups felt about some of the proposals then.

The first suggestion was that drivers should be held liable for littering from cars unless they name the person responsible. It's not clear if respondents were asked how they would deal with the not totally unpredictable scenario where the named driver denies it and blames the driver in return and I won't consider what would happen when your Community Warden is faced with a full MPV. The IAG agreed with this proposal 206-3 (presume one abstained) whereas the web consultation wasn't quite as positive at 118-59. The Equalities Forum was foursquare behind it but the Youth Council disagreed 6-11. Note that implies the YC has 17 members, more than the IAG's 14 but they don't appear to have been given the opportunity to drag up extra votes like the IAG did. NCC decided to go ahead with this proposal.

Next, let's have a look at the proposal to speed up the process of dealing with 'grotty' privately owned houses, giving removing rubbish from gardens and sorting out derelict properties as examples of what this means. NCC suggests that the 28 days allowed to carry out works is too long and should be reduced. The IAG wasn't quite so supportive on this one, only 203 members supported the measure while 7 disagreed. However, the web consultation was split down the middle 90-92. The Youth Council was against it at 2-15 as was NCVS at 3-10. The Equalities Forum was in favour 7-1 but with 4 abstentions. So, considerable disquiet on this one, happily NCC is going ahead with it anyway.

Noise problems next. When there's a noise complaint NCC wants to be able to barge in and confiscate equipment first and ask questions (including asking for clearance from the courts) later. The IAG agreed with this 208-1 with 1 'not sure'. In the web consultation it was 101-73. Hmm, anybody noticing a pattern emerging here? The Youth Council was split 7-7, NCVS was in favour with 9 votes (not sure if the rest were against or abstentions), and the Equalities Forum voted 9 in favour with 3 abstentions but rather hit the nail on the head that reasonable evidence should be obtained to avoid malicious accusations. Hard to see how that could be included but I'm sure NCC will think of something because they're pursuing this one too.

I could go on but there is a very clear pattern of the IAG+friends voting overwhelmingly in favour of all the proposals whereas the other constituencies were far more ambivalent. This includes the 'Community Safety Zones' suggestion where concerns were raised about affecting the right to protest and the fact that buskers add 'colour' and were therefore a good thing. NCC has even responded to some of the concerns by removing any mention of protests, still the IAG voted 200-10 in favour of the measure including protests compared to the web consultation voting against 56-128.

You are left wondering what this consultation exercise would have looked like without the IAG, and also what kind of 'hang em and flog em' type people are members. The difference in voting is so stark as to be reasonably arguable that it has skewed the results. Now I'm SURE that wasn't NCC's intention, why that would be ridiculous but NCC would have had a hard time arguing that the consultation supported many of the proposals without them.

So it seems the war on hedges and swearing in the park is to go up a gear via another wave of populist authoritarianism. Very 'New Labour'. Still, keep the masses at each other's throats over their scruffy gardens and they won't pay too much attention to councillors failing to declare business interests or helping their 'grandson' jump the housing queue.

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