Make responding to Cambridgeshire’s consultations easier through standardising & co-ordination (Part 1)

It was at nearly 2am that I wrote this because someone was wrong in politics or something – but I must mention that Cambridge City Council has its own online consultation portal here. Have you signed up and filled out your response to the one on putting residents at the heart of the conversation?

…and then John said I needed to write a column only local media tends to get a lot of correspondence about proposals from local public bodies and how unpopular they are. And not just inside the City of Cambridge but also in other parts of our county such as in the Fenland town of March.

“Consultations…haven’t we moaned about this before?”

Like the proverbial stuck record.

Back in 2016 I wrote about trying to bring together the institutions that regularly put out consultations with the media organisations that acted as a conduit with the wider public. But given the decline in the local print press and the cuts to the BBC local and regional news output, we are in a different situation. We’re now in a situation where we don’t have a small number of reputable outlets that have a very wide coverage (a sort of microcosm of times gone by in national media) but instead we have a much more fragmented world full of misinformation and disinformation – which makes it much harder to deal with.

Back in November 2021 I wrote how Cambridge needed to overhaul how it ran consultations.

It contained a link about how to get more people involved who were conspicuous by their absence.

“How do you involve people in local democracy and politics if they have very little time, and are permanently tired?”

A Dragon’s Best Friend – 04 Jan 2018

Looking at the date, I had just come out of the old Papworth Hospital following a suspected heart attack which an angiogram could not find any evidence of clogged arteries so they concluded it was most likely a viral inflammation that was the cause. But being in hospital with nothing to do and few people to talk to means you can ask staff lots of things – and I found out few knew much about what was going on in the shaping of our city – not least because of their very long hours and also our political system that bans so many migrant workers from voting.

In February 2022 I complained about the Police and Crime Commissioner’s approach to consultation

(Yes, I know. Always complaining and demanding overhauls!)

“Of note is the response from those in the 18-24 band, with only six responses, less than one percent of the 813 responses. There is a general pattern that as the age band increases, responses increase. Whilst this does not necessarily skew the results, it does suggest that some of the solutions identified may be through a narrower lens than would be ideal.”

Cambs & P’boro Police & Crime Plan 2021-24 Consultation Report, P8

Given that at school in the mid-1990s we were told that the 17-25 y/o age group is the one most likely to become victims of crime, I’d have thought that unless things had changed dramatically, the PCC would have made a much bigger effort to engage with teenagers and young adults. How? As I wrote in 2022 – by going to where your audience is.

Complicated documents 2014 style

How do you solve the housing crisis in Cambridge? I wrote about both the local planning system (and how inaccessible it was to most residents) nine years ago. Progress update? Oh. But then housing policy is one of the most complex and heavily-lobbied of areas that a tick-box style approach to consultation simply will not work. The same goes for transport policy which goes hand-in-hand with housing. That’s one of the reasons why I don’t support a referendum over a proposed congestion charge or road-user charge. Another reason is such a referendum automatically excludes people inside Cambridge’s economic sphere of influence who live over county borders. Ask people living in Haverhill, Saffron Walden, Royston, and Newmarket but who work or study in Cambridge what they think about a Cambridgeshire-only referendum.

Then there is the sheer quantity of paper – the 2018 blogpost linking to a Planning Committee meeting to judge planning applications. The agenda pack alone had over 500 pages.

Above – 518 pages of planning committee papers. Bedtime reading?

This was an issue that came up earlier today when I bumped into several people at my local cafe – which for about half the week is about as far as I can walk to given CFS. One of them was a medic and new mum who had recently moved out of the area to one of the villages just north of Cambridge. She said she couldn’t imagine how anyone our age in full time work and caring responsibilities could find the time to wade through the papers involved with local government consultations, let alone stand for election. Furthermore, the density of the papers is not just in terms of length of content, but also intellectually dense in that they require a fairly high level of knowledge for people to read and make sense of them. And even if you have those levels of knowledge, reading and understanding them is draining.

“So, what’s the overall response and write-up?”

I’m saving that for the next blogpost (part 2) because there are too many links to my previous posts in this one.

If you are interested in the longer term future of Cambridge, and on what happens at the local democracy meetings where decisions are made, feel free to:

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