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Former Conservative councillor says Lichfield District Council’s spending consultation is a waste of money

A former Conservative councillor has claimed consultation questionnaires designed to see how Lichfield District Council can find budget cuts are nothing more than a waste of money.

Joanne Grange

Joanne Grange

Joanne Grange resigned from the council after a disagreement with the party of the way planning rules were being implemented.

She said at the time that she no longer felt the local authority had the best interests of local residents at heart.

The feud between Ms Grange and the Conservative leadership has now re-ignited over a council consultation on ways it can best spend the reduced amount of money it has due to cuts in the funding received from the Government.

She said the exercise was nothing more than a box ticking exercise.

“I’ve got a suggestion on how the council can save money,” she said. “How about not issuing questionnaires when we all know the answers provided will be completely disregarded?

“That way the council will save the staff time for whoever designed the questions, staff time in analysing the answers, staff time in coming up with the reasons why the answers given by the electorate will be disregarded, and costs of meetings for councillors to ratify the reasons provided by the officers about why the answers will be disregarded.

“Of course there’s always the chance that the electorate will inadvertently come up with answers Cllr Wilcox is looking for and the questionnaire will be deemed to be a great example of consultation, but I suspect that’s not likely.

“I can’t imagine many council taxpayers suggesting setting up a speculative property company for people with no relevant experience to gamble with our council tax.”

Huge funding gap

Cllr Liz Little, Cabinet member for corporate and customer services, revenues and benefits, denied the council was paying lip service to the views of local people and businesses.

Liz Little

Liz Little

“We take feedback from our residents very seriously and are promoting the Your View questionnaire to get as many comments as possible to help us shape our future budget,” she said.

“The questionnaire sets out that we are facing a huge funding gap and that we need to look at our services and the way we work to identify ways to do thing differently and more efficiently.

“Knowing what’s most important to our residents as part of this is vital, as it will help us to make the right decisions, and so we really need as many people as possible to give us their views.

“Another way we’re trying to gain local ideas is by launching our new residents’ focus groups. We held our first two sessions in October which were really positive.

“We’re really keen to get more people involved in our focus groups, so if anyone would like to help us to shape our future plans and feed into the council’s next Strategic Plan, we’d encourage you to register to take part.”

People can register to join the focus groups by emailing alison.bowen@lichfielddc.gov.uk.

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10 Comments

  1. Steve Norman

    25th October, 2018 at 12:43 pm

    Just one example of the Conservatives listening to Council Taxpayers.

    They asked (because of the ongoing Tory funding crisis): “Do you agree with charging for emptying Brown Bins?

    70 % of respondents said:”No” but the Conservative Councillors brought in charges anyway!

    Good luck with being listened to this time.

  2. Joanne Grange

    25th October, 2018 at 2:14 pm

    If this was a true attempt to consult, I’d expect less bias in the questions. I’d expect some indication of which were services that the council is required to provide, and hence areas where efficiencies are being sought, and which are “nice to have” and hence areas where spending can be cut. If this was a genuine attempt to consult, I’d expect a full range of choices to be given for each question and all areas of council activities to be covered, rather than questions which guide answers and are selective in what they ask about.

    For example, in Q13a you can choose to either increase council tax by 2.99% or not. If you choose not to increase by 2.99%, question 13b then asks whether you want no increase, a 2% increase of a 2.5% increase. There is no way you can suggest either a reduction or an increase of more than 2.99%. Now I don’t know whether anyone would want an increase of more than 2.99%, but given the way the questions are designed, neither would LDC! I think it’s also quite interesting to look at the areas that are not being “consulted” on – no questions on community funding? No questions on council buildings? No questions about communications? No questions about the duplication that results from 3 levels of council and the inherent inefficiency of residents having to be passed from one to the other to get problems solved?

    I’d also expect more sensible categorisation of spending categories so that it is possible to give an answer. Question 8, for example, asks whether I think the council should increase, protect or reduce spending on capital, interest and reserves. Ideally I’d like an increase in capital spending but a reduction in non-value added interest cost. I can’t give the answer I’d like to due to the categorisation. If I say I’d like increased spending, I’m suggesting I’m happy for the council to spend more on interest, which I am not. If I say I’d like less spending on interest, I’m also saying I want less capital spend.

    It’s also interesting that “private sector housing” is an area where questions are being asked. Presumably this is linked to the new speculative property company and the leadership seeking support? Or is this linked to trying to find a solution for the Friarsgate site?

    This is not a no-cost exercise but through its bias and poor design is not going to provide any sort of robust information on which to sensibly base decisions . The survey says it’s powered by Snap Surveys and from a very quick Google search it appears that a single licence costs £695 per year. LDC may have got this cheaper, but the licence to run this survey will not be free. It’s also perfectly possible for an individual to complete the survey more than once – hence undermining any potential value from the data as there is no guarantee that it is representative. As an aside, the survey itself asks for answers by Friday 7 December but the LDC website says Wednesday 21 November…

    Hence I come back to this is an exercise in optics. LDC wants to be seen to be consultative, but is not doing anything effective or efficient to acquire data that could be valuable and robust enough to use in decision making.

  3. Steve

    25th October, 2018 at 3:58 pm

    It will be the standard consultation. LDC have already decided what they are going to do and what they are going to cut.

    If people agree with them, the council were right. If people disagree with them, it proves the public knows nothing and LDC were right.

  4. Ron

    25th October, 2018 at 4:16 pm

    Cuts imposed by Tory government and our Tory-led council are under obligation to implement those cuts. Why ask us? Perhaps it’s so the council can say “we have listened to our electors and they said . . . .”. No; any comment/suggestion would be saying we agree with the cuts. We don’t (or at least, I don’t). In my opinion, Joanne is absolutley right – well done for speaking out.

  5. Joanne Grange

    29th October, 2018 at 2:32 pm

    Clearly there was another area of spend missed from this spending consultation questionnaire. “Do you believe we should spend £90k on two roles because we’ve run out of ideas on what to do with the wasteland we’ve created in the middle of the city?” Just in case it’s not obvious, I (and I suspect a lot of other people) would have ticked the box that said “reduce spending” on this particular type of cost.

  6. LetsGiveItASpin

    29th October, 2018 at 3:00 pm

    @Joanne , as i keep saying these issues , property, friarsagate, budget consultations are all officer led , officer instigated , officer recommendations. The council itself is rotten to its core and all cannot be blamed on members, though they should have the intellect to stand up and challenge these officer led ideas ….

  7. Joanne Grange

    29th October, 2018 at 3:12 pm

    @LetsGiveItASpin – I don’t disagree – the members should act as a governance mechanism but seem to fail in that duty for a variety of reasons. My view, for what it’s worth, is that this is not helped due to the huge majority of Tory councillors – the whip makes it virtually impossible to vote against the ideas that are supported by Cllr Wilcox and his cabinet, meaning the checks and balances that should exist are ineffective.

  8. Claire

    31st October, 2018 at 5:32 pm

    As a former market researcher, I am appalled at the number of amateur errors in the design of this questionnaire, it’s sampling and therefore data quality. Whether the council genuinely wish to use the results from this consultation is irrelevant. The data collected is worthless due to poor questionnaire design. It violates nearly all the basic rules of market research. Next time, as an absolute minimum, I’d suggest a simple google search e.g. “rules for research questionnaire design”.

  9. Joanne Grange

    5th November, 2018 at 9:44 pm

    Q5 A vibrant and prosperous economy. For each of the items listed below please indicate where you would prefer to protect spending, reduce spending or stop spending altogether…

    Alas the choices underneath are for increase spending, protect spending or reduce spending….

    Pray tell LDC, what happened to the “stop spending altogether” choice? And where did that “increase spending” option come from?!

    @Claire – spot on! Poor questionnaire design especially where the rubric doesn’t match the options available.

  10. Joanne Grange

    5th November, 2018 at 9:48 pm

    But I suppose at least the dates have been amended so that the questionnaire and the website now have the same date. Could this be the first ever example of LDC taking on board some feedback? But interestingly the wording on Q13 has been amended and includes some explanation. Surely this then renders the answers received before the change in wording invalid?

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