Summary: Please can council officers make it much much easier to find the important documents and the essential information, data and policy proposals in them? Thanks

Josh Thomas of the Cambridge News is currently ploughing through the documents that have just been published – click here to see what he’s spotted.

Cambridge City Council tweeted the announcement not so long ago of the budget proposals being published.

This takes us to a summary press release here. Within that press release is a weblink to the submission document from the council’s head of finance (an official rather than a councillor position) to the Executive Councillor for Finance & Resources – currently Cllr Richard Robertson. Under this set up, executive councillors effectively mirror the roles that government ministers have. The executive councillors set priorities and task council officials to come up with proposals on how to deliver them.

The problem with the press release and the weblink to the submission document is that both make references to further information in appendices – which are not linked at all. Thus unless you know where to look, you’re in the dark if you want to scrutinise the detail. Which I do.

All of the really interesting stuff beyond the headlines is actually embedded in the web page for the meeting where all of the issues are to be discussed. See here for the meeting page for the council executive’s budget discussion. Note item 4 – members of the council can table public questions related to the budget, but please give council officers notice if you wish to ask a public question. Please note the following below.

“To ask a question or make a statement please notify the Committee Manager (details listed on the front of the agenda) prior to the deadline.

? For questions and/or statements regarding items on the published agenda, the deadline is the start of the meeting.

? For questions and/or statements regarding items NOT on the published agenda, the deadline is 10 a.m. the day before the meeting.

Speaking on Planning or Licensing Applications is subject to other rules. Guidance for speaking on these issues can be obtained from Democratic Services on 01223 457013 or democratic.services@cambridge.gov.uk. Further information about speaking at a City Council meeting can be found at:  https://www.cambridge.gov.uk/speaking-atcommittee-meetings”

The thing is, there is ***so much information*** buried in the papers for the meeting to discuss the budget that you need the patience of an angel and perseverance of a crack detective to find and decipher that information to work out which are the bits that are important. For me it’s page 215 onwards (yes, two-hundred-and-fifteen) on the budget proposals themselves, and page 270 onwards for the 2016-19 corporate plan. Furthermore, page 294 onwards is effectively a policy risk register. Finally, note the equalities impact assessment from page 314 onwards.

328 pages overall…if you can bear it.

And that’s just the budget executive meeting scheduled for 23 Jan (agenda here) – that’s before it has been to full council. But I’m also interested in the news headlines about the proposals for Cambridge’s community centres. Not least because Puffles’ paw prints are all over this policy.

Dragon fairy policy implemented by Cambridge City Council

Have a look at theme seven from Puffles’ manifesto for the Cambridge City Council elections 2014 – scroll down to “My Proposals”. Now have a look at pages 12, 13 & 14 of the Building Stronger Communities Strategy. It’s almost a carbon copy of Puffles’ proposed approach. It took them just under three years to adopt and implement the idea, but hey, we got there in the end. And we did say *Thank You* to the officials for doing so.

Because let’s be honest and fair about this: it’s ever so easy to give councillors and officials a kicking when in the grand scheme of things they are operating within a Whitehall straightjacket commanded by the lower echelons of the ever-shrinking political talent puddle of Westminster. And let’s face it, the direction of travel is away from the ministerial career ladder and towards devolved city administrations. Why would Andy Burnham MP give up his very high profile shadow cabinet role to put his name forward as a candidate to become mayor of Greater Manchester?

That also means that when councils adopt my ideas, I kind of feel at least a little responsibility speaking up publicly *in favour* of what the council is doing, even though in other quarters that same policy might be getting a kicking.

One of the risks with this example of evidence-based policy is that the research and evidence shows the current distribution of community facilities and venues does not match the needs of the city. In some areas provision might be too high and in others too low. Some might have greater provision of facilities run and self-funded by civic organisations outside of the control of local government, while others may find a lack of such facilities. It’s a difficult balance to find. But in terms of policy design, I think they’ve got this one right. By that I mean:

  1. They went out to consultation in a manner they had not really done before – bringing out big maps and sticky labels and inviting the public to list the places and venues they considered to be community venues
  2. They analysed the results and produced a report showing their findings
  3. Local policy officials and executive councillors then used that evidence to formulate and justify their proposals – which again will go out to consultation to see what people think.

The difference between 1) and 3) is that part 1) is asking residents to fill in the information gaps the council has. For part 3), the council is asking residents for their comments on the policy proposals – and ideas for improvements. In this case one of the proposals is to demolish two smaller community centres which in the grand scheme of things are within 10-15 minute walk from each other, and to replace it with one much larger facility – freeing up the land elsewhere for much-needed housing. Given house prices in Cambridge there is a huge opportunity for the city council to build a large community centre covering two of the more economically deprived wards in Cambridge, and given them something to be really proud of – something that children will walk into and think: ****Wow!****

 

 

Original source – A dragon’s best friend

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