One of the problems that Croydon Council has is managing to get the basics right.
You know, things like posting the correct date of a London-wide election on its website; not missing out Kate Moss from its short-list of the borough’s famous residents; or even making sure you have “exactly the right person” for the job before handing a six-figure salary to a new executive in charge of the multi-million pound regeneration of the borough.
By the way, for new readers, none of the above blunders are in anyway made up: all are examples of our “efficient” council as reported by Inside Croydon this year.
These flawed fundamentals extend further, to the conduct of public consultations on key issues, which our council should ensure are conducted as widely and fairly as possible. This includes ensuring that ethnic minorities, women, children and people with disabilities are all properly considered in the drafting of consultations, and that their views are sought and properly recorded.
And all groups must have a fair and reasonable time in which to be made aware of the consultation, and have ease of access to put forward their responses, views and comments.
Much of this responsibility for the council now falls to its “Customer Communications & Strategy” “team”.
Recent examples – such as taking down the council website for “essential maintenance” over a weekend when the Upper Norwood Joint Library consultation had its deadline, or simple spell-checking and proof-reading copy – show a systemic failure at Croydon Council in this important respect.
Corporate consultation across Croydon Council is the responsibility of Hayley Lewis. Last year, the task was removed without consultation (there’s an irony there) from the chief executive’s own corporate strategy team, which was closed down soon after as a budget cut.
The small strategy team had years of experience and expertise in this, and other important areas, but as Rouse wielded the axe to council jobs, it was decided it would be far more “efficient” to farm out this work to another team, this one under the management of Lewis, a highly trained psychologist but apparently without any background in either consultation or communications.
Previously, part of the strategy team’s role was to advise other departments on consultations, including making sure the basics were covered, basics that seem to have been overlooked recently, such as inviting people to take part in a consultation, but then not publishing the email address to which they can send their views.
The Upper Norwood Library consultation also lacked some essential elements – required by quangos such as the Information Commissioner and the Equalities Commission – like providing a box requiring respondents to indicate their gender in the equalities monitoring section.
In football parlance, these are schoolboy errors.
When Lewis – a highly trained psychologist – took over this role, a memo was sent to everyone in the council telling them that now consultation was going to be done by her team, it would be better and more effective. Some of the chief executive’s own staff who had not already been given their P45s interpreted this as a spiteful dig. Not good psychology, you might suggest.
Lewis and her team appear to be failing on a regular basis on consultations. In some instances, this could have expensive consequences – ultimately paid for by Croydon residents – if the consultations have to be repeated, or the council is fined by one of the quangos.
At least, that’s our analysis.
- View this video clip to get a feel for the councilspeak so fondly used by Rouse and by the rising star of Croydon Council execs, Hayley Lewis. They are just so efficient (if you repeat it often enough, you might even start to believe it).
- Inside Croydon: A news source about Croydon that is not based in Redhill. Post your comments on this article below. If you have a news story about life in or around Croydon, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Croydon Council and the cuts: playing a numbers game (insidecroydon.com)
- Council cock-up stops comments on library consultation (insidecroydon.com)
- Council to spend £1m to furnish its new headquarters (insidecroydon.com)
- £20 million: Croydon’s planned spend on consultants this year (insidecroydon.com)