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
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, YorkLearning
City, Early Years Development and Childcare Partnership, and Schools
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
York21 Neighbourhood Forums and 31 parish/town councilsproviding
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
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
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
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
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 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
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.
A twice-yearly community newsletter in two editionsone
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.
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
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
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 Centrea
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
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
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 StudyExpert Witnesses in Qualitative
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 StudyCity Wide Consultation on Park and
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.