Memorandum by Burnley Borough Council
I have pleasure in enclosing a submission of evidence
from Burnley Borough Council to the above inquiry.
Burnley is a non-unitary district authority
with a population of some 90,000 people. We would particularly
hope that the Select Committee, in drawing its conclusions, will
recognise the differences in what is achievable in this field
between larger unitary authorities and smaller districts such
as ourselves, and make recommendations accordingly.
Principal Policy Officer
PART 1: AN
Burnley Council has a long track record of public
involvement and consultation, both corporately and within individual
services. The Council's commitment to consultation is contained
within its annual Democracy Plan and is reflected in the Council's
structures and ways of working at both officer and elected member
Structures and Processes
Corporate public consultation is overseen at
elected member level by the Community Involvement and Planning
Working Group (CIPWG), which reports to the Policy and Resources
Committee. The CIPWG is serviced by an officer group, the Community
Involvement Team (CIT) consisting of officers from five service
units with expertise in public consultation and involvement methods.
Each service unit which deals directly with
the public has a nominated officer for consultation, supported
by a member of the CIT who advises on any surveys or other forms
of consultation the service undertakes.
The Council maintains a Burnley Organisations
Database (BOD) of voluntary and community organisations. Plans
are in hand to make BOD more accessible and user-friendly, and
to develop the Council's existing web site which we see as having
growing importance as a part of our public interface in the future.
We produce a quarterly newspaper, Burnley Borough
News, distributed free to every household in the Borough. This
provides a regular opportunity for any member of the public to
comment on Council services, plans and key issues.
The Council has recently established a Citizens'
Panel of over 1,000 representatively sampled residents. The first
panel survey, conducted in the autumn of 1999, was concerned with
Best Value and asked about access to and communication with the
Council, satisfaction with services, and priorities. The results
are summarised below. Before the Citizens' Panel was established
we had conducted other large-scale public surveys on an ad hoc
We support, through grants and officer time,
a large number of voluntary and community organisations including
a borough-wide Community Forum and the Ethnic Minorities Consultative
The Council has a Translation and Interpretation
Unit which was recently awarded a Charter Mark. We also have significant
in-house graphic design capacity.
Public consultation and involvement is supported
by a continuing programme of training for officers and elected
members, including the production of a "toolkit" of
simple methods providing alternatives to traditional and often
unproductive public meetings.
Resources permitting, we plan to develop the
use of focus groups, participation days, citizens' juries, "Question
Times" and other deliberative forms of public involvement
over the coming two years.
Burnley Council is active in the North West
Community Involvement Network of local authorities and we are
developing liaison arrangements with the other three Citizens'
Panels in East Lancashire. We are also members of the national
LGIU Democracy Network and actively pursue opportunities to learn
from the experience of other local authorities across the country.
The following services consult through various
"customer forum" and "user group" arrangements,
as well as in other less regular ways:
Community and Recreation Services.
Other services which regularly conduct public
consultations using a variety of methods are:
Housing Needs and Strategy.
Economic Development Unit.
Urban Regeneration Unit.
Environnmental Health and Cleansing.
Neighbourhood consultation and community involvement
The Council has a rolling programme of Local
Area Work which involves working with residents, ward councillors
and service providers to review and improve services at a neighbourhood
level. The programme currently operates in two areas of the borough.
We provide development support and act as the
Accountable Body for three community-based economic development
partnerships funded through the European Union's Objective 2,
Priority 4 programme.
Local residents are extensively involved in
drawing up our current SRB Round 6 bid within the identified target
area and are also preparing, in another area, a potential bid
under the New Deal for Communities programme. Community management
will feature strongly in both programmes if the bids are successful.
We are currently exploring a range of approaches
to neighbourhood management in several areas of the borough; this
work is at an early stage.
Consultation on Council Strategies and Plans
The following strategies and plans have been
agreed following public consultation:
Economic development strategy.
Burnley Council "Vision and
The following strategies and plans are in the
course of preparation and also involve extensive public consultation:
Burnley and Padiham Community Plan.
Local Agenda 21 Strategy.
The Council has also taken the lead locally
in consultation about the emerging sub-regional strategy for East
Lancashire drawn up by the East Lancashire Partnership.
PART 2: AN
For a fairly small authority with very limited
resources, Burnley Council has devoted significant time and effort
into citizen consultation and participation over a number of years.
However we have recognised that these efforts have not always
been deployed in the most effective ways and that a more strategic
approach is needed. A significant start has been made on this
through the development of corporate structures and processes
described above, mostly implemented during the past two years.
Problems which remain are now being addressed
through the development of corporate strategies for public involvement
and for information and communications, both of which are to be
put to Members in the early part of next year. The following comments,
therefore, are from the perspective of the lead officer in this
field and do not as yet represent the adopted views of the Council.
The problems to be resolved are:
both council officers/members and on the general public/community
organisations. This results from the pace of change in local government
and the requirement to consult on a frequent basis on topics which,
superficially, appear quite similar to one another. This could
be overcome through better forward planning and linking of consultation
initiatives where possible and appropriate.
The continued reliance on inappropriate
techniques. This should be overcome with the publication and promotion
of our "toolkit" early next year and through continued
staff and member training programmes.
Issues of access and equality. The
voices of key groups such as young people and ethnic minority
women are not heard enough. This can be overcome through a rolling
programme of targeted work with these groups; young people form
the current priority here (on a joint basis with the County Council's
Youth and Community service).
Meeting the costs to the public of
being involved in consultation and active citizenship. A start
will be made on this through our current SRB Round 6 bid though
this will not, of course, cover the whole borough but could develop
good practice for use elsewhere.
The need to update our corporate
communications for the electronic information age; this is in
hand but is not amenable to a "quick fix".
Resources: it is difficult for a
small authority such as Burnley to meet the costs of citizen
participation, including staff time. The authority now has a specified
budget for corporate community involvement (including the Citizens'
Panel) but as yet does not have a corporate communications budget,
which is a major inhibitor of our citizen participation work.
Effective public involvement has to be underpinned by high quality
and properly resourced public communications.
PART 3: IMPLICATIONS
The Committee specifically requested observations
on this topic. As above, these are the observations of the lead
officer and not the considered views of Burnley Council.
Citizen participation does not threaten
representative local democracy provided that there is clarity
about where the boundaries of each initiative lie and who is ultimately
responsible and accountable for decision-making. There have been
examples in Burnley in the recent past, especially regarding area
structures and tenant management, where responsibilities have
not been as clear as they should. Staff and member training, and
corporate communications, both have key roles to play here.
Citizens may be ill-informed or just
plain wrong but at the end of the day their votes count. Again,
the importance of effective communications can hardly be understated
if participation is to result in quality decisions.
Our recent experience of establishing
a Citizens' Panel has been informative and very positive. Informal
and ad hoc contact with panel members has indicated how many of
them are "honoured to be asked" to give their views.
The results of the first survey have provided a much more balanced
and positive view of the Council's services than many officers
and memberswho tend to deal for the most part with people
who have problems or complaintswere expecting.
The Citizens' Panel will also provide
a pool of people for focus group work and other more intensive
and deliberative forms of participation.
We are about to embark on a four-stage
process of consultation and participation over democratic renewal
and the forthcoming local government legislation. This commences
in January 2000 with a Citizens' Panel survey, followed by work
with focus groups, a Citizens' Jury or similar and finally (if
this proves necessary or is demanded) a referendum. The whole
process should, as an important by-product, significantly raise
the profile of councillors and their work.
This year Burnley Council participated
fully in Local Democracy Week. This, too, was an encouraging experience
on the whole, and in particular in those aspects which were member
led or which featured members prominently. Again, it was an opportunity
to hear positive as well as negative feedback about the Council.