Select Committee on Public Administration Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum by the City of York Council

Following a request from Nick Easton in Policy and Research at the Local Government Association, here is some information on how City of York Council approaches citizen participation.

  Our innovation lies not so much in the use of new methods and approaches, though we have pioneered a number of developments in this field, but rather in the holistic way we apply different methods and techniques and the scale and depth of our work. Thus, whatever the issue we are seeking to engage with the public about we endeavour to apply an appropriate mix of methods whether to communicate information to the public, consult with them or enable them to participate.


  Each year City of York Council publishes the Citizens' Charter. York produced the first ever Citizens' Charter in 1989 and it is a high-profile statement of our objectives, developed in response to articulated local need, demand and expectation. Delivered to every property in the city it sets out the policy objectives for the authority, as well as steps being taken to address them.

  At the core of the council's approach to policy creation is the concept of involvement and participation by citizens, customers and other stakeholders. The development of policy objectives is based heavily on the consultation programme that is described under the Community Engagement section below. It is from this that the strategic direction of the authority is largely driven, whilst recognising that national government initiatives also play a part in determining our policy agenda.

  The communication of our policy objectives is very strong as we believe that it is imperative that stakeholders have a clear understanding of what we are doing on their behalf. Communications activity includes delivery of the charter to every property, presentation upon our website and using the Charter as part of our ongoing consultation with partners and interest groups. Internally, every member of staff is sent a copy of the Charter, providing them with an understanding of how their contribution plays a part in delivering our objectives.

  The use of the objectives is reinforced by this internal communication. The Charter and the objectives are used as a yardstick against which new service ideas and budget proposals are measured and, as such, they are a core part of the ongoing management of the authority.


  The Council takes a leading role in a number of City Partnerships. These have been established to bring together resources and expertise to address issues in a holistic manner. The Partnerships provide effective mechanisms for liaison across the City and provide invaluable feedback and comment on the Council's community leadership, management and effectiveness. They involve representatives of business, learning, training, health, police, public, private, voluntary and regional organisations.

    —  Safer York Partnership: Launched in July 1998. It has a key role in implementing the York Crime Reduction Strategy from April 1999.

    —  York Challenge Partnership: Established in May 1997. It administers the York Challenge Fund. Some of its central objectives are to seek additional resources from external resources, make annual awards and where appropriate work in partnership with local business.

    —  Regeneration Partnerships: Partnerships which aim to regenerate the social, economic and environmental fabric of specific neighbourhoods of the City.

    —  The York Accord: The York Accord is an agreement between nine major public sector bodies in the area to obtain better value for money for York's tax payers by sharing information and identifying joint working opportunities.

    —  Local Agenda 21: Oversees the preparation of the LA21 strategy and associated extensive consultation. As part of this initiative York has also set up a separate partnership to initiate and run the York and North Yorkshire Business Environmental Forum. This helps businesses improve their environmental efficiency and improve their competitiveness.

    —  Inward Investment Board: A unique partnership with the University of York, North Yorkshire TEC, Yorkshire Forward RDA, and leading local businesses that works to attract new investment, jobs and development to the city.

    —  First Stop York: Working with partners we have created an effective marketing, training and quality assurance body that looks to maintain and enhance York's role as a centre of tourism. About 10,000 jobs are in this sector and this partnership is the mechanism by which all key players work together to maximise the potential of this key business and environmental area.

    —  York Educational Partnership: Set the guiding principles out of which have come initiatives such as the Lifelong Learning Development Plan, York—Learning City, Early Years Development and Childcare Partnership, and Schools Learning Together.

    —  Science City: Based on using a science and technology employment base, this partnership aims to create a skills base and future jobs in three areas in which York has particular strengths; Bioscience and Healthcare, Information and Communication Technology, and Heritage and Arts Technology.

    —  York Museums Collections Access Partnership: Ten heritage organisations working to jointly manage, maintain and exploit the unique heritage collections of the city. It is developing an unprecedented resource for a range of audiences and reducing costs at the same time.

    —  Health Joint Consultative Committee: Embraces the Government's National Priority Guidance on joint health and social services responsibility to deliver policy objectives. Health improvement Programmes, Mental Health Strategies, etc, are jointly commissioned and delivered.


  In line with the Government's modernising agenda we have the York infrastructure of local assemblies whereby people at a very local level can involve themselves in decisions affecting their lives and communities. There are 52 local assemblies in York—21 Neighbourhood Forums and 31 parish/town councils—providing liaison mechanisms and recognised by City of York Council as the most local tier of government. Every community is served by a local assembly supported by the Authority to enable:

    —  communities to get more involved in addressing the concerns and problems of their neighbourhood;

    —  partnerships to be formed between local people, voluntary groups and the business community of York;

    —  decision-makers within the Council and other bodies to get an enhanced opportunity to listen to local citizens' hopes, fears, aspirations and needs and to give local people an opportunity to "have their say"; and

    —  communities to have a greater say in the decisions which affect their neighbourhood.

  We believe the voluntary and community sector also have a vital role to play in providing comment and feedback to the Council. There are a range of mechanisms for voluntary sector involvement in specific areas:

    —  Some Council Committees have direct representation from voluntary groups, including the Disabled Person's Advisory Group and the Equalities Working Group.

    —  Community and Residents' Associations play an active role in representing the interests of their communities, primarily with public sector landlords, but also with other service providers.

  Closely linked to the Council's work with Neighbourhood Forums and parish councils is work with local community groups. These initiatives take the form of specific community development projects, and neighbourhood agreements. We are also in the process of introducing an Open Government Policy for local assemblies which will introduce minimum standards of operation as well as a complaints procedure including an ombudsman service.

  The Council's Equalities Working Group provides a mechanism for consultation with organisations and individuals representing communities usually excluded. It has promoted specific consultation initiatives such as women's focus groups. The Council works closely with the York Travellers Project and the York Race Equality Network in order to maintain awareness of issues facing the communities they represent.

  Through the authorities close working relationships with parish councils and Neighbourhood Forums local communities have significant opportunities to voice opinions and determine spending priorities for themselves. This principle extends to consultation of those who are sometimes regarded as "hard to involve". Special techniques have been developed and been used to involve, for example, people with learning disabilities, people with mental health problems, ethnic minorities and young people.

  Other mechanisms have been created to ensure effective participation by other community sectors which have special needs. The Disabled Persons Advisory Group, Older People's Forum and the Building Bridges Forum (liaison with ethnic communities) all enable the Council to undertake effective consultation. We have ensured customer representation on Social Services Committee by co-opting a person with learning disabilities, one with disabilities, someone coping with mental health problems, a carer and an older person.

  The Council has developed a Consultation Strategy that incorporates a range of 21 techniques. The guidance given on the appropriateness of individual techniques to particular issues, circumstances or stakeholders is extensive. Before consultation is embarked upon, safeguards are in place to ensure that it is the pertinent form for the project and that a series of questions about its usage have been answered. This ensures that consultation is carried out with a clear remit, understanding of what will be done with its results, defined consultees, and a programme for informing people of the results and outcomes. This is reinforced by a Consultation Evaluation Procedure that assesses any consultation exercise against a range of parameters. In this manner not only can consultations be checked for robust methodologies but also as to their impact upon the policies and services of the council and how, consequently, they have empowered stakeholders. The consultation arrangements of the authority have also been held up as good practice by organisations such as the LGA, IPPR, IDEA and INLOGOV.

  Some further specific examples of community engagement initiatives:

Foxwood Project and Neighbourhood Agreements

  Community development approach undertaken at minimal cost with local residents. Started with community survey work (door to door) led on to a series of events such as a community festival, community safety conference, a number of new community activities and groups such as after school care group and under 11's five-a-side football. A local Community Action Group formed and residents empowered to negotiate direct with local services providers the level and quality of local service provision and have an on-going role in the monitoring and evaluation of such provision. The outcome of negotiations with service providers has been drawn up in a series of Neighbourhood Agreements.

Chapelfields Visioning Project

  Through the local Neighbourhood Forum and with resources from the York Regeneration Project, residents have become involved in a series of discussion and project groups to set out a vision of how they would like to see the Chapelfields area of York in 10 years' time. This visioning exercise uses other techniques such as "planning for real" to help the process. The resulting vision will form the basis of the local neighbourhood community plan and an action programme with targets and a role for residents in the monitoring of performance will ensue.

Neighbourhood Annual Reports

  Service providers from all agencies across the city are being asked to contribute to neighbourhood based "annual reports" that can be presented to the local assembly and through which local services can be held to account by local residents. The police, the Health services, different landlords for an area are all contributing and making statements about past performance and promises about the future.


  The Council has an extensive programme of award-winning communications. All its communications are aimed at encouraging responses from citizens and customers. They include:

The York Citizen

  A tabloid newspaper produced 10 times a year and distributed to all 76,500 properties within the council boundary. Additional copies are distributed via libraries, council receptions, key businesses, other local authorities and council employees. The York Citizen is also produced on tape for blind people and distributed via York Blind and Partially Sighted Society and libraries.

  The purpose of The York Citizen is to present, in an accessible and lively manner, news about what the council is doing, planning to do, and why. It also looks at issues of concern to the city and identifies how the council is responding. Hard information on a range of council services and facilities, as well as events, such as councillor surgeries, committee meetings and what's on in York, is also carried. Regular columns, including the consumer column "Fair's Fair" and "Youth File" are also carried.

  The council has responsibility for spending many millions of pounds of public money and we believe that it is very important that residents know how we are spending it and why. The York Citizen is a very cost-effective way of achieving this. Its publication is a key element of the council's communications activities, with its frequency helping to maintain a profile throughout the year at an annual cost of just 39p per York resident. Research shows that most residents read several articles in The York Citizen in each issue.

Streets Ahead

  Streets Ahead is a quarterly eight-page magazine distributed to 15,700 homes on York council estates.

  City of York Council aims to be a listening local authority whose policies and services are shaped by the people it serves. This means that it places a high priority on keeping residents informed about new developments and encouraging them to give their views. Streets Ahead supports this aim by keeping residents living in council estates up-to-date with developments so that they are better placed to get involved and give their point of view.

  The challenge of a magazine for council tenants was to deliver useful information in an interesting and attractive way. Streets Ahead, it was decided, should be more of a Chat or Bella type magazine than an official-looking piece of local authority information.

  Streets Ahead uses human interest stories as a vehicle for communicating what could otherwise be dry information in a lively and entertaining way. It carries features on subjects such as home security, energy efficiency and debt, as well as news stories about housing developments, consultation exercises and other initiatives or changes to services. Each issue carries a benefits advice column and basic information about local events and how to contact the council. The magazine also uses profiles of key council staff to show the human face of the services offered by the authority. It carries a quiz with a prize in every issue to give added value to the reader.

  As well as giving hard information, a key aim of the publication is to project a positive image of council tenants and the communities they live in. It also encourages residents to take advantage of services by giving them information about what support is available to them. In addition, Streets Ahead supports the key messages City of York Council aims to give about itself, portraying the council as a pro-active and innovative local authority which is working effectively to give tenants the highest standard of service.

  City of York Council's Annual Housing Services Monitor 1998 shows that 67 per cent of tenants read all, nearly all or most of Streets Ahead, while 12 per cent read a few articles.

York Action

  A twice-yearly community newsletter in two editions—one to the areas with parish councils, one to the areas with neighbourhood forums. All parish councils and neighbourhood forums are asked to contribute their news to the publication and it is aimed at encouraging participation in local assemblies, local democracy and community life.

Wise Words

  A tape about the council and how to access its services, including registering to vote, sent to all 18 year olds on their birthday. Produced by Marketing and Communications Group it was recorded by top DJs Mark Radcliffe and Lard.

A-Z Guide to Council Services

  Published every two years and delivered to every household.

  In addition a series of one-off, issue based communications are published.

  Other communication mechanisms include:

    —  A clear customer complaints procedure which aims to resolve complaints as close as possible to the point of service delivery within 10 working days.

    —  Customer contracts for key services outlining what they can expect and the process for putting things right if we fail to meet the standards promised.

    —  Customer suggestion cards and boxes in key Council buildings. The Council standard is that all suggestions receive a written response within 10 days of receipt.

    —  The Council web site contains much information on the Council and the area. There is also a facility to make comments and suggestions to departments and Councillors by e-mail.

    —  The Council has established "Customer First" standards which are regularly monitored and reported to Policy and Resources Committee. This includes the time taken to see customers at service points and the time taken to answer telephone calls and letters.

    —  The customer contact tracking system is designed to enable all staff with access to a PC to log and monitor a variety of customer contacts and our response to them. Although its principal function is to log and monitor complaints it is anticipated that extensive use will be made of its facility to log and monitor enquiries, letters, requests and compliments. It is also capable of providing an audit trail to track how and when the complaint was dealt with.

    —  A freephone, confidential helpline for children in care.

    —  The Customer Advice Centre—a single gateway to social care and housing services through a city centre one-stop shop providing advice and help with housing, social care, welfare benefit and education queries.


  The Marketing and Communications Group houses the council's research function. This consists of a small team of research specialists with training in the use of quantitative and qualitative research techniques including: in-depth interviewing; group discussions; postal and other self completion surveys; face-to-face surveys, both on-street and in the home; and, telephone surveys.

  The Marketing and Communications Group research function has two broad roles. The primary role is its contribution to the marketing process. It is an important means to identify the needs and desires of customers and citizens, providing a clear understanding of what is important to different groups, identifying who and where they are, and enabling the council to develop policies and services which are appropriate and which are most likely to receive a positive response.

  As well as gauging the desires and aspirations of citizens and customers, research provides an important means of monitoring performance through the measurement of satisfaction with the current provision of service, whether they be directly provided by the council or by other sectors under the regulation of the new authority.

  Every year the research team is responsible for co-ordinating and largely carrying out the council's extensive programme of research; which this year includes over 40 projects, covering every department within the authority. Salient on-going projects include: the annual Resident's Opinion Survey; Talk About, York's citizens' panel; and our work on residents' budgetary priorities:

    —  The Residents' Opinion Survey: Every year the Marketing and Communications Group carries out a face-to-face interview survey of 1,500 randomly selected local people. The survey allows the council to monitor public satisfaction with the authority overall, and with specific council services. It is also provides senior officers and elected members with quantitative information on the public priorities for council spending.

    —  Talk About: City of York Council is one of the first in the country to develop a representative panel of local people which it regularly consults on local issues. Rather than the on-going monitoring of customer satisfaction, which has been the principal use of panels in other authorities, Talk About has been used as a vehicle for ad-hoc questioning of York citizens on topics of importance to the council. Postal questionnaires are sent to members of the panel three times a year, and because of their prior commitment response rates are very high (between 75 per cent-85 per cent), which makes this an extremely cost effective consultation method.

    —  Budgetary Priorities: Every year the research team undertakes qualitative research, in the form of focus groups, with York citizens to determine their aspirations for council services and their spending priorities in specific areas. This work provides an in-depth understanding of what matters to local people and why, as such it is invaluable to members as they decide on the council's budgets for the next financial year.

  The research function does not just feed into the on-going management of the authority, it is also available for one-off public consultation exercises where the views of citizens and customers are needed quickly. Two prominent examples of this work are: the council's response to the BSE crisis; and the public consultation undertaken when Park Grove Primary school was severely damaged by fire:

    —  BSE and Beef in Schools: When the beef crisis arose the council was faced with the difficult decision on whether to serve beef to children in its schools. In order to make a balanced decision, the views of parents were clearly crucial. To this end the Marketing and Communications Group undertook a telephone survey of parents to gauge their views on this important issue. In the light of research findings the council banned the provision of beef in all its schools.

    —  Park Grove Primary School: After Park Grove Primary School was damaged by fire a number of options were open to the council from renovation through to demolition and complete rebuild. The council was committed to fully involving local people in deciding on its future and alongside a planning for real exercise involving volunteers from the local community, a face-to-face survey was undertaken to obtain a fully representative view of what local people wanted. The findings led the council to drop its preferred option of demolition and rebuild in favour of a major refit which would maintain the original feel of this listed building; something which clearly mattered a great deal to the people of the area.

  For some time City of York Council has been building a national reputation as a centre for excellence in research and consultation. Our standing is such that every year we share our thinking and expertise with colleagues throughout local government through formal presentations at conferences and workshops, visits, and articles in local government and research media. Over the last 12 months we have also begun to offer our research services to other local authorities in direct competition with the private sector.

  The government's democratic renewal agenda, which puts consulting and involving the public at the heart of local governance, means that our expertise has never been more in demand.

  The work has largely involved us in setting up citizens panels along the lines of our highly successful Talk About panel. We have not as yet set out to actively market our research services and the contracts we have won have come to us solely through our reputation and competitive rates. We have recently been commissioned to set up the largest citizens panel in the country and involves a partnership involving Norfolk County Council, Norfolk Constabulary, Norfolk Health Authority, the local Enterprise Partnership, and district councils in that area.

  Two other areas of innovation are outlined in case studies below:

Case Study—Expert Witnesses in Qualitative Research

  In developing our consultation techniques for Best Value we have begun to use presentations from "expert witnesses" in our focus group research. This innovation has the value that in the first instance we can obtain detailed, "rich" information from citizens and customers on their existing attitudes to services like, for example, street lighting or pavements. We can then through a witness (usually a council officer who has prepared a set presentation and been briefed to avoid them dominating the process) put before them information about the service under discussion, such as how much it costs, the number of people it serves, the repairs process and costs, and even options for running the service differently. Those taking part can question the witness, then when they have finished the witness leaves and the independent facilitator can get their views on what they have heard.

  This innovation draws on developments with citizens' juries, but is far more cost effective and less time consuming. However, its primary benefit is that it acknowledges that local people already have views on services, even if they do not have "all the facts" which the organisation considers important.

  No matter what the topic being covered, these groups are very much enjoyed by those who take part, not least because of what they learn about the council.

Case Study—City Wide Consultation on Park and Ride

  Proposals for the development of a new Park and Ride site to serve people coming into the city from the north had been in development for some time. In the formal planning process the views of a number of residents who lived nearest the proposed site were forcefully put forward. However, traffic congestion is a major problem in York and our research tells us that it is a major concern for all residents. Given this fact and the importance of Park and Ride to transport planning in the city the council decided to embark on a city-wide consultation.

  The consultation involved three elements: qualitative research using focus groups; a leaflet to all residents; and quantitative research with a representative sample of York residents. The qualitative research, which involved focus groups with residents and representatives of local businesses, enabled us to glean detailed information on broad opinions and was fed into the development of the quantitative research. The leaflet was delivered to all York residents and contained details of proposed development options allowing citizens to have access to information about Park and Ride, the current proposals, and for them to make comment on these options if they wished. The quantitative research was carried out as part of the Residents' Opinion Survey and allowed the council to assess city-wide opinion in a robust, statistically reliable way.

  The results showed considerable support for Park and Ride, the need for a site to the north of the city, and the council's favoured site.

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