Community news and investigative journalism for Wapping E1W and Tower Hamlets London

Tower Hamlets council’s £100m cuts consultation sham

By on September 20, 2014 in Tower Hamlets, Tower Hamlets council

When is a public consultation over £100m cuts not a public consultation? When it is run by Tower Hamlets council, that’s when.

Facing making service cuts of £100m Tower Hamlets council is paying lip service to the notion of consultation with borough residents. Information stalls will be available for a total of 10 hours and an accompanying online survey is poorly conceived and ineptly executed.

The East London Advertiser reports that Unison branch secretary John McLoughlin considers the ‘Your Borough, Your Voice’ survey ‘cosmetic’ and criticises the fact that the full survey is only available online.

An examination by Love Wapping of the manner in which the consultation is being implemented finds us in complete agreement with Mr McLoughlin.

The council claims that the consultation is ‘Your chance to have your say on what matters most’ and that  ‘The council is now asking residents for views about the choices that will enable us to meet our reduced budget constraints. Your Borough Your Voice is aimed at every section of Tower Hamlets’ community. We would like to hear from all residents, service users and stakeholders about how we can work differently and deliver services in a new way.’

Well if the council is sincere in their wishes they might want to carry out their consultation properly. Or even just go through the motions with a little more enthusiasm.

Information stalls open for only 10 hours

There are two ways for the 263,000 residents of our borough to air their views regarding these issues.

For those who do not have internet access – a lot of people and most likely those most vulnerable and in need of social support – they can visit one of five information stalls at Roman Road market, Bethnal Green Road market, Chrisp Street market,  Watney market or ASDA Superstore on the Island.

If all 263,000 residents turns up expect big queues.

And as each information stall is open once only for two hours each resident had better make their views quickly.

Let’s say 1,ooo residents turn up at each stall for the 120 minutes of the consultation they then have eight minutes each to make their views known.

On 25 different savings proposals. Here they are (all links will open in a new window).

No doubt the Tower Hamlets staff manning the five information stalls will be able to explain what a ‘review of non-statutory independent reviewing functions’ means, the scope of the cuts and even the amount of the cuts. In the 19 seconds they will have for each of the 25 different savings proposals.

Down the rabbit hole (again)

It’s a nonsense isn’t it? But it gets better, off into the Alice in Wonderland world that Tower Hamlets council inhabits. The Your Borough Your Voice page has the above list of 25 consultation issues in 25 separate Adobe PDF files. Here is the content of the first file, ‘Efficiency Review of Community Mental Health Services’.

Saving Proposal

Efficiency Review of Community Mental Health Services

Impact summary

This proposal will not affect access to community mental health services. It will improve services by making them more streamlined and reducing the number of different people that service users have contact with, whilst still meeting all of their mental health needs.

What are the details of this proposal?

The community mental health service provides assessment, review and support planning to eligible adults with mental health needs. This proposal would review how to make savings in the community mental health service through service redesign and consolidation. These efficiencies will still allow the council to continue to deliver its core statutory obligations for community mental health service users.

All Service Users will continue to receive a service but this will be delivered in a more streamlined and consistent way reducing the number of separate contacts for service users. The proposal will improve services by making them more streamlined and reducing the number of different people that service users have contact with, whilst still meeting all of their mental health needs.

Notice anything missing?

Sure?

Need some more time to think?

Want a clue?

This is a consultation about cuts. Cuts. Cuts! CUTS. Less cash.

Still not got it?

There is no mention of money. Either in the survey documents or on the web pages. Or mention of budget figures. Or proposed savings. Or what the financial options are. Anywhere. No mention of how much the current Community Mental Health Services costs, how much money is at risk, what the options for cuts might be.

Not very useful.  In fact useless.

Only once in the 25 files is there a mention of actual costs. The ‘Recovery of Court Costs’ proposal states that ‘This proposal is to add £10 per summons resulting in the costs of a summons for Council Tax being £100 and £160 for Business Rates.’ That’s it.

To be fair the ‘European Social Fund match funding payments’ proposal does state that ‘… under this proposal the budget will be reduced by one fifth’. That’s OK then. Isn’t it? One fifth of something will be cut. 20% of whatever the current payments will go. It’s just that residents don’t know how much the current payments are. Could be a tenner. Could be ten million. Who knows?

The language used is also at odds with the whole cuts thing to. “The proposal will improve services by making them more streamlined and reducing the number of different people that service users have contact with, whilst still meeting all of their mental health needs.” (Our emphasis)

Huh? Reading this out of context a borough resident could be forgiven for thinking this was a proposal to improve  community mental health services, not cut them by… whatever that amount might be.

Digital equivalent of a chocolate fireguard

The situation becomes worse when Tower Hamlets council’s online version of the cuts consultation is examined. Residents will first need to register with the ‘My Tower Hamlets’ service which has done as much for the cause of Open Government as the film ‘Jaws’ did for swimming. I will not dwell on the shortcomings of ‘My Tower Hamlets’ here, if you are interested I suggest you pop over to Trial by Jeory and have a read there.

Love Wapping signed up for ‘My Tower Hamlets’ a couple of years back and has found it to be the digital equivalent of a chocolate fireguard. Useless.

Always open to new experiences our intrepid reporters (all of them) signed in fully prepared to engage with Tower Hamlets council’s latest foray into digital democracy.

As you will be able to see from the images of some of the survey screens below it was not a good user experience.

First thing which might deter users from proceeding can be seen highlighted in red on the first screen – “You have 25 surveys to complete”. Oh.

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As you can see our investigative reporters (all of them) soon failed in their duties. No wonder.

One of our reporters just happens to design digital ‘user experiences’ for a living. And that reporter knows this is not how you design an online consultation.

First error is that anyone can sign up. Live in Bilbao? Sign up. Live in Nebraska? Sign up and have your say.

Second error is that there are 25 different surveys to complete. So if you stick with it that is only two hours work as long as you don’t take a break.

Third and worst error is that anyone can write whatever they like in the answer boxes. Anything. Our team was going to transcribe the complete works of Shakespeare but life it too short.

What should happen is that instead of this ‘open answer’ approach the respondent should be given a choice of values to choose from. So maybe something like:

Question: Which group of residents do you think this proposal might impact on the most? Choose only one option.

  • Elderly people
  • Single parent families
  • Young people
  • Ethnic Minorities
  • Unsure
  • No opinion

Not rocket science is it? In this way the council get a coherent set of answers which they can, through the miracle of modern computers, run through a spreadsheet and come up with a result fairly quickly. If everyone is as silly as me and answers ‘Eggs’ to questions it could be tricky to get a proper feel for the opinion of the borough’s residents. Even Sammy the Squirrel might not be able to get his views across properly. Nuts to that.

But then it is very unlikely that anyone is going to bother completing 25 badly designed online surveys. Even if they relate to £100m in cuts. One reason being that as with the PDF versions of these surveys there is no mention of costs. Well, we assume there aren’t because we lost the will to live after only two or three screens. If Sammy the Squirrel does complete the lot we will of course report back.

If you want to find out how an online survey should be designed and implemented we suggest you have a look at SurveyMonkey.

Who is kidding who?

It is obvious to anyone that the ‘Your Borough, Your Voice’ exercise is a complete waste of time and money.

Exactly how much money has been wasted we will endeavour to find out when the ‘consultation’ concludes by asking Tower Hamlets council some basic questions like:

  • How much did the ‘Your Borough, Your Voice’ consultation cost?
  • How many people attended the information stalls?
  • What was the cost of designing, implementing and analysing the results of the online survey?
  • How many people completed the online surveys?
  • How many of the responses to the online surveys had to be discarded?

Should be interesting.

A promise is a promise Mr Mayor

That an issue as serious as £100m of cuts should be treated with such a lack of professionalism will be of no surprise to residents of Tower Hamlets.

Our beloved Mayor Lutfur Rahman will have to make good on a promise he made some time back: Tower Hamlets mayor: the day I have to make cuts, it’ll break me. (The Guardian)

Oh dear.

See also: Mayor Lutfur Rahman to spend £1.2m on PR advisers. 

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There Are 2 Brilliant Comments

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  1. Parent says:

    I agree 100 %, Council proposes to cut all publicly run nurseries , since when children are not a vulnerable group. They are not consulting the public properly about it and gave parents in nursery a 1 hour and one meeting only. I really question whether they know what world consultation actually means.

  2. Andy Erlam says:

    Mr. Lutfur Rahman pretends to be a man of the Left. Nothing wrong with that in principle, it’s a question of whether the end justifies the means, and indeed whether the end is what it’s cracked up to be.

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