How should Councillors communicate?  Do they need to?

I was in the City Council the other week and while waiting, I was looking at all the literature which advertised all the good things that the City Council was doing this year, all the events they are putting on and some of the different bits of support they offer.  A lot of this, particularly the “positive” aspects was stuff that I was unaware of.  When events come around, we find out about them because they are in the press or word of mouth etc.  If I hadn’t been popping in, then I would not have seen the literature.  Is it right that they produce all this stuff but are not effectively distributing the information.  Or is it just me, should every Gloucester Resident be expected to visit Herbert Warehouse once a month to find out whats going on?

This, and other events recently really got me thinking about interaction with local Government.  We tend to go and see our Councillors if we have a problem.  Unless you know any of your Councillors on a social basis then few, if any of us make an appointment to ask what they are up to, or what events or positive things are going on that they are driving etc. 

So there are two issues/questions here, firstly does the Council, provide enough information in a suitable way for the General Public to know what they are doing, and secondly, should Councillors as our elected representatives be more proactive in “spreading the good word”? 

Certainly the Quedgeley Fieldcourt Councillor Fred Wood is starting to use Social Media, having seen posts from him on Quedgeley People, Kingsway Villagers and has set up a page on Facebook.  He has posted recently things about upcoming events and answered questions on Council Tax.  Other councillors have Blogs, Twitter and the like and you can see by the responses they get that many people like the interaction, it makes the Councillors accessible and “human” and provides an efficient way of getting information out.

I have also had other Councillors tell me that Social Media is “Silly” and a “waste of time”.  They believe they meet enough people in their ward/area when they walk around every so often.  Is that right?  Can one person hope to meet all their constituents when they walk around their ward on a daily or weekly basis?  I walk around Kingsway a lot, which is about a third of Quedgeley Fieldcourt, and I KNOW there are many people who I don’t see!  And is it arrogant to believe that just because I walk round Kingsway, that everyone on Kingsway feels like they can just come up to talk to me (just in case you’re wondering, yes they can 😉 but do they really feel that).

Social media though is only one aspect though, what about the use of the press and trying to get more positive stories out, or engaging with the Public meetings.  Public meetings themselves or surgeries are not very efficient nowadays, as the Tory Q&A in Quedgeley showed.  But does that mean that we should not run them?  We need to look at who we are trying to communicate with.  Many families have children that need looked after, one or both parents working full time and so they are really only going to invest in such a meeting if they feel strongly enough about the issue and they feel that they will get some result.  It’s also unfortunate that many of these meetings only really occur during election periods, but at least that makes it once a year.  I find public meetings useful, and I enjoy talking through the issues, but while I may get a full room, that is still only 60 or so people at best, out of a population on Kingsway of 1500 homes.

But how far do you go, when do you stop.  If you put on a surgery every saturday, and no-one turns up, can you say you have done enough?  Or have you done it wrong? 

My personal view is that Councillors have a responsibility as part of their role to not only be there to receive complaints and try to resolve the issues etc, but also to promote what they are doing for and on behalf of their residents.  However it is not a one size fits all. With modern communications it is more and more possible to reach more and more of the people you represent.  We need to keep doing what has been done in terms of the traditional methods, but we also need to come forward and engage people in ways that are more convenient to them where possible and practicable.


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