Gloucester City Council are consulting on their Budget. You may have not heard about it because it seems to be one of the best kept secrets in Gloucester at the moment and with the budget imminent for release then it looks like this could be the last week to get it in. But I do use the word consultation sparingly, not only has the advertising of this been shockingly poor, the website with the survey on is pretty rubbish with little or no disability support and the questions themselves are so horrendously leading that it would not pass any sort of ethical review. With a week to go it is reported that they have had 400 responses, that is 400 from a city of over 90,000 residents. That is just over half of the minimum required sample size for confidence.
So lets break it down. In terms of advertising, they have done a couple of street stalls in the city, out it on the City Council Website and put out some tweets and Facebook messages. But as the number of respondents have shown, it’s not enough. It is a repeating criticism I have of the City Council that the way they get their messages out is poor. Unless you’re visiting the Council Offices, or happen to be talking to the right people then many residents don’t know what fantastic things are going on in our city.
The questions on the survey are not good either. They are leading, don’t give any background as to ramifications, options or pros and cons. To work through them, lets see below:
The Government is offering money to councils if they don’t put up the council tax this year. Do you think the City Council should take up this offer? Yes/No
Of course most people are going yes to this. What we don’t read is what the knock on effects of this could be in the future, IE a steep rise in council tax somewhere down the line when the government stops giving us handouts.
The Council spends over a third of its budget on refuse, recycling, street cleaning and grounds maintenance. Do you think the Council should try to reduce this amount?
Again, on the face of it, yes they should. But what isn’t clear is if this is going to be through reducing the services or making the services more efficient. As it stands, it can be an easy justification to reduce the services.
Would you object if your green box recycling was collected once a fortnight rather than once a week?
Probably the only honest question in the whole survey.
Do you think we should try to earn more money by encouraging people to visit the Museums and attend events at the Guildhall?
Again, seemingly an obvious yes, but does this mean spending more money on advertising, or better acts or overhauling them to make them more attractive. Is it a small cost or a large cost?
Do you think parking charges in council car parks are: Low/about right/too high
On the face of it a simple question, but we need to know how much the car parks cost to run and how much revenue is generated at the current time to make a balanced decision as to value for money.
Do you support the proposal to reduce the cost of management within the Council?
That depends on how effective the current management is, and what impact it will have on delivery of service. Need that context information.
Should property developers be charged for the cost of planning advice they get from council officers?
Oh should be yes, shouldn’t it? What planning advice? Is it critical? Is it to explain the Councils own practices and processes? If so, then that should be free, shouldn’t it? Desperate for description and context.
Would you be prepared to see the grass in parks and open spaces allowed to grow longer?
How much longer? An Inch, a foot? Whats the savings that could be gained? Whats the impact of cutting longer grass (I find it harder to cut longer grass at home!).
All the questions above are single choice answers (Yes, No or Multiple option). The questions below are comment boxes. These are probably the most useful questions to take advantage of.
What could individuals or communities do themselves to help the council save money?
Do you have any other views on the services the council provides or ideas as to how we could save more money?
Do you have any comments or suggestions you would like to make, regarding how we spend your money, or generate income?
So, with the exception of the green box question, I can’t see that these questions are sensible or realistic to get a usable answer except a self serving one. I guess that in itself is useful for the administration, but if your going to do something like this, why not make it useful and get some real data. I also have not highlighted the depth of personal data it asks for, but they do now know that my inside leg is 32″ and i like caffe macchiato coffee as a special treat 😉
So that the questions, so what about the responses. The Leader of the City Council has already been tweeting about the percentage of respondents agreeing or disagreeing with questions and its also reported in the paper. It sounds quite impressive that “88% of people want us to freeze council tax, so we will” and “82% of people want us to raise money by getting people to museums and the Guildhall so that’s what we’ll do“, These are Tweets from Paul James, leader of the City Council. But, and this is significant, that is a percentage of only 400 people. 400 people out of over 90,000 residents. To use the same jazzy percentages as the leader of the council, that is 0.44% of the voting population of Gloucester. Does that make any conclusions drawn from this survey valid?
Personally, If I was looking at the results, the first question I would be asking is if this is a valid sample. If the job had been done right, there should have been set a minimum sample criteria, IE the minimum target number of respondents. In this case, the minimum number of responses around 700 (when requiring a 99% confidence) and I wouldn’t be stating answers until I had at least this verified figure.
So finally the website itself, well it doesn’t look great and more importantly it also doesn’t do any check as to where the respondent comes from and for repeat inputs. I could easily flood the responses and skew the results. If budget decisions are being made on these results, security of some description should be evident.
The irony here is that this all started when I tried to increase awareness of the consultation and I had a number of tweets, emails and Facebook messages saying that people had not heard about it, how bad the questions were and how bad the site was. I then get accused of taking the easy route of offering criticism, but nothing constructive. I hope this post goes someway to highlight in detail of the failings of this consultation and what to do to correct it.
Finally, just how much money has been spent on this consultation? Think I might have to find out.