28 December 2010

To Northfields Obs Group (whoever they may be).........

M&B received this in response to the anonymous and negative commentary from the 'Northfield Obs Group'. As it deserves prominence, I decided to make it today's blog entry as well as reproducing it under 'Invitation only'. The text, in bold, is reproduced as received by M&B.

A Town Councillor replies..........
I read with interest the comments from the Northfield Obs. Group written in response to your blog dated Tuesday 14th December 2010 – Somerton Town Council Meeting.

My overriding feeling is one of sadness that the respondent believes it's necessary to use comments like, “the war carries on – apparently with no Generals”. Do I take it that this implies the group he/she represents is at “war” with the new town council? So what's the underlying psychology behind this verbal behaviour? It's a pretty negative and destructive comment. Is this a group which enjoys conflict? Does it feel threatened or insecure? Do they feel something that they value is being destroyed? Have they forgotten or lost the ability to put trust in others?

Then we have remarks referring to the leadership of the council. Here there appears to be a complete misunderstanding of what leadership at local government level is all about, by the apparent link to “Generals”. As the town council isn't at war with anyone

it doesn't need Generals, leaders yes, which it has. Leaders in public life aim for principle centred leadership wanting to develop and encourage amongst other things the following:

· Co-operation
· Community engagement
· Community empowerment
· Community participation
· Honesty and openness
· Clear communication
· Trust

I certainly believe that as a town council we've made a start in each of these areas, it's a long term project and doesn't happen overnight.

Finally I agree with Niall Connolly's invitation to join in the dialogue, let's have some open communication, after all discussion surely has to be more constructive and positive than “war”.To this end I would welcome an opportunity to meet with you to discuss the concerns mentioned in your response, including your point about “zero achievements”.

I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Phil Thomas


Cerberus writes:

Comment -
Whilst I am not involved with the Somerton Town Council I share Phil Thomas’s sadness, but perhaps from a different perspective to his own, in relation to where I live.  Whilst the use of ‘war’ may not be appropriate, there is no escaping the fact that addressing local issues has become a series of ‘battles’ with the Council.  Some may comment that a war is merely a series of battles.

Councillor Thomas’s list is the usual mantra trotted out by Council and Central Government but the reality of implementing them is another matter.  One has only to visit the many Blogs and Websites and talk to people in the community to see the level of disenchantment that exists and the frustrations experienced by the ‘common’ folk.  

I respond to each of Councillor Thomas’s proposals for ‘development’ based upon my own community’s experiences of SEVERAL years and that appear to be all too common elsewhere across the country.
1.      Co-operation – It would be refreshing to see some of this.  Council only want co-operation if it fits their own agenda, and has to be strictly on their terms.
2.      Community Engagement – Is selective, focussing on ‘flagship’ projects whilst those deemed less ‘worthy’ are ignored.  Council kudos appears to be (is) the main consideration.
3.      Community Empowerment – Council don’t want it.  Public consultation and opinion, even by large, well organised, groups is invariably ignored.  So, whilst appearing to encourage the ‘engagement and empowerment’ of the community, it is nothing more than fulfilling the illusion that public opinion really matters.
4.      Community Participation – Pretty much covered above and below.
5.      Honesty and Openness – Point blank refusal to consider the latter which only increases doubts about the former.  ALL meetings should be open to the public and subject to appropriate scrutiny.  A Council meeting, in an adjacent village, to discuss the purchase of a building for a proposed Community Centre is to be held behind closed doors.  Why?  This meeting is to discuss the possibility of a COMMUNITY Centre, surely the community should have their say in the decision making?  It is actions like this that make a mockery of the much publicised ‘greater community involvement’.
6.      Clear Communication – In an ideal world this SHOULD happen, but the reality is another matter.  Ask a fairly innocuous question and, yes, you will probably get a response.  If one has the audacity to ask something a little more ‘probing’ then expect NO response.  For example – A recent request for clarification on why a local project was £9+M over budget, directed to the head of the local council, has been ignored, as have most communications relating to other matters.  The response to the ‘other matters’ resulted in a response from one of his staff stating that I, “Cannot expect the head of the local council to read everything that is sent to him”.  Is this acceptable?  Does this in any way begin to address the concerns that are expressed by the taxpaying public, OR contribute to the ‘list of objectives’ outlined by Councillor Thomas?  No, it doesn’t.
7.      Trust – It would appear that there isn’t any.  Many of the residents of Exeter simply do not trust the council.  Why would they?  We are constantly bombarded with the message of ‘get involved’ and ‘have your say’ and, when we DO, the barricades go up.

There is no doubt that there IS a desire by the community for greater involvement.  Unfortunately, this enthusiasm is NOT shared by the council and many other organisations and there is no evidence to suggest that this is likely to change any time soon.  To quote Councillor Thomas, “Does it feel threatened or insecure?  This comment should perhaps be directed at the Council.  The current ‘them and us’ situation is of THEIR making.  We, as residents, have expressed OUR enthusiasm for changes, the onus is now on the council and other organisations to prove to US that this is what THEY really want.