Members of the public may ask questions or make statements at this meeting if they have given notice to Melanie Carr of Democratic and Scrutiny Services and supplied the text (contact details below) by midday on Thursday 24 November 2022, three working days before the day of the meeting. Each speaker should limit themselves to 3 minutes on any item. Members of the public who have given notice will be invited to speak:-
· at this point in the meeting if their questions/statements relate to matters which are not otherwise on the Agenda (subject to an overall time limit of 30 minutes);
· when the relevant Agenda item is being considered if they wish to speak on a matter which is on the Agenda for this meeting.
If you are exercising your right to speak at this meeting, but do not wish to be recorded, please inform the Chairman who will instruct anyone who may be taking a recording to cease while you speak.
There were to public questions received. The first from Ms Helen Tomlinson, as follows:
‘With the new Council being remote and the number of elected representatives being drastically reduced, it is important for local democracy to have effective mechanisms for North Yorkshire residents to be informed about and consulted on important issues.
Regrettably, the current consultation on priorities for the new Council does not give any grounds for optimism. The survey is a jumbled confusion of issues and, crucially, provides the public with none of the information needed to give meaningful answers about Council priorities.
For example, one question asks ‘What should be the new council priorities over the next three years’ and lists 11 issues to be put into rank order. Strangely, Adult Social Care is mentioned in the preamble and as a front line service but is then not listed as one of the issues to be ranked.
There is no information about what the new Council might do in relation to any of these issues or what costs might be involved. The first issue listed is ‘value for money’ - a no-cost issue and, surely, important to everyone but we are required to ‘rank’ it against ‘education and childcare’ that already accounts for almost £600 million of County Council spending.
I wonder what would happen if all the responses rank ‘health and well being’ as the top priority or what North Yorkshire residents will get if ‘Town Centres’ is a top ranking issue. These questions are being put to the public with no monetary or practical information, models or consequences. This suggests that the consultation document is merely paying lip service to democracy and that the council are , rather patronisingly, assuming that the public cannot handle the relevant information. Why are we presented with a quiz rather than an important consultative document?'
In response, Vanessa Glover, Head of Communications confirmed that ‘Let’s Talk Local’ was the start of a conversation with as many people as possible across North Yorkshire’s many communities. It was an important first step for the new council to understand priorities across different areas and to make sure that local views inform the way North Yorkshire Council would work with local people, partners and businesses. She noted Let’s Talk Local had so far received more than 3,000 responses.
She also confirmed Let’s Talk Local has been supported by more than 200 pop up events across communities, and feedback had been extremely positive, with a number of communities joining in who the Authority had not been able to engage with previously. She encouraged as many people and places as possible to contribute and thanked everyone who had taken part in it and the other surveys on the Authority’s commonplace platform.
She acknowledged that adult social care and children’s services would represent two of the largest areas of spend for the new council and therefore their mention had been just for context. The priority list was based on themes, rather than services, to help start the deeper conversations locally based on local priorities. She also accepted that everywhere was different and suggested that by undertaking the biggest countywide conversation, the new council was setting out its stall clearly as one that wanted to listen and work at a very local level.
She drew attention to the opportunities in the statutory consultation ‘Let’s Talk Money’, for people to rank specific services rather than themes if they wanted to.
Finally, Vanessa Glover confirmed:
· For Let’s Talk Local, where health and wellbeing was a top priority in an area, deeper conversations would follow in that community to understand in more detail.
· Where high streets were a priority – things like public realm improvements, business enhancing and cultural initiatives could potentially be pursued through strong local partnership working. Dependent on what people said was of value locally.
· The aim of Let’s Talk was to have conversations with residents about what was important to them.
· Over 5,000 online responses had been received across the three surveys and people from all over the county had come in person to share their views at face-to-face events.
· There were a range of topics included on the Let’s Talk online platform with a mix of questions and free text boxes for people who would like to say more.
· The feedback from both the online platform and the face- to- face conversations at the events, would be used to inform a variety of strategies and plans which would be more formally consulted upon, alongside more detailed information in the future.
The second question was submitted by Mrs Anne Seex as follows:
‘Having attended a ‘Let’s Talk Local’ consultation event in my community and completed the survey on-line, I am appalled by this poor quality, utterly amateurish process. I would like answers to the following points:
· Did the Council get advice from any professional public opinion or market research organisations? If so, which one?
· Who set the questions in the survey?
· Which Councillors approved the survey and when?
· What ‘consumer testing’ was done before launching the survey?
· Who will analyse the results?
· How many responses are needed for the results to be statistically valid and for the data collected in the ‘personal information’ section to have any value in analysing the responses to the other sections?
· How will the Council use the answers to the question ‘what do you think makes a good place to live?’ to work with residents at a local level?
· Will the Council publish the briefing information issued to the staff who attend the consultation meetings?
· When will the results be published?’
In response, Vanessa Glover, Head of Communications confirmed that North Yorkshire Council aimed to be the most local council in England and that the engagement exercise was the first step in listening to help inform that approach.
She suggested that before its launch next year the new Council wanted to talk to as many people and communities who may not have engaged with the Authority previously, as well as those who had. In an effort to do things differently, in planning Let’s Talk Local wanted it to feel like the start of a conversation, something from which stronger community level relationships could be built, to start to establish ways of working that suit local people and their priorities. She confirmed:
· It was not a consultation, but an engagement exercise, as part of which, there had been more than 200 pop up events at the places local people went, alongside wider marketing campaigns.
· So far in excess of 3,000 people had given their views as part of Let’s Talk Local and more than 2,200 people had signed up to stay in touch.
· Overall across Let’s Talk Local, Money and Devolution more than 5,100 people in North Yorkshire have completed surveys.
In regards to Mrs Seex’s specific questions, Vanessa Glover confirmed:
· Experienced consultation and engagement officers from across county, district and borough councils had worked on the consultation events and on the broader Let’s Talk engagement programme. The Consultation Institute had given some of the officer training undertaken.
· Officers had also worked closely with the team from Commonplace - a Government G-Cloud Supplier and a Dept for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities Engagement Supplier.
· Commonplace were used by 250 organisations including government departments, local authorities, health trusts, consulting firms and corporates to empower people to connect and work together on local projects. Commonplace.
· Let’s Talk Local was not designed or intended to be used as a traditional survey but to provide a framework for broader and on-going engagement with communities, through community conversations. Questions were based on national best practice and adapted to support a conversation-style approach to the engagement. They had also been put through Commonplace’s quality assurance process.
· The approach to Let’s Talk engagement exercise had been considered by portfolio holders for the various subjects.
· Questions had been tested internally involving staff from all eight councils.
· Data analysis and consultation and engagement officers would analyse the responses, working with staff from Commonplace.
· The personal information was being used to target engagement activities to help reach as wide a range of people as possible and to ensure the sample was representative of the wider population. For example if there was a lower response in one area or demographic, additional actions could be taken to try and reach them.
· Results at North Yorkshire level would be very reliable (within +/- 2%) because of the 3,000+ responses.
· Statistical tests would be used to calculate the reliability of the data received in the personal information section, which in turn would inform the process of determining whether there were any statistically significant differences in views between different groups.
· The conversation was just the first step in informing how the new council would work most effectively with different communities. It recognised that everywhere was different.
· The data would help the Authority understand what was most valued in different communities and what felt local to them.
· The approach to working locally would be iterative and reflect local views.
· An internal operational document had been issued to staff who attended the consultation meetings, a copy of which could be made available.
· The results of Let’s Talk Local would be published in 2023 alongside further information on the new council’s way of working with communities.
The Leader thanked both public participants for their contribution to the meeting.