To consider a report and presentation from the Executive Member for Economic Development and Finance on the Participatory Budget Exercise carried out in 2015. Also to consider an overview of the Council’s updated Economic Development Strategy.
The Committee considered a report and supporting Appendices, set out on Agenda pages 23 to 62, which gave details of the Participatory Budget Exercise carried out in October 2015. Councillor Anthony Pollock, Executive Member for Economic Development and Finance and Graham Ebers, Director of Finance and Resources, attended the meeting to discuss the report and answer Member questions.
The aim of the exercise had been to provide information on the financial challenges facing the Council and develop a better understanding of the views and priorities of local residents. Appended to the report was a copy of the presentation slides used during the sessions and a breakdown of the comments submitted on a range of saving options for Council services.
The sessions were advertised on the Council website, news and social media and took place in five locations comprising Charvil, Finchampstead, Lower Earley, Wokingham and Woodley. Although attendance was low, the exercise was considered to have been a successful first attempt. It was intended to undertake a similar exercise later in 2016 which would incorporate the learning points from last year. These included more accessible venues, improved publicity and greater use of online promotion and feedback.
The Committee considered the 2015 exercise and made suggestions for improvements in the 2016 exercise. During the discussion Members made the following points:
· Would the sessions be more effective using fewer but bigger locations? It was felt that more locations would encourage local communities to attend and that Ward Members should be consulted about the most suitable sites.
· What were the aims of the sessions, and were they achieved? It was felt that the sessions combined information sharing and a two-way discussion on the financial challenges facing the Council. The feedback provided a different perspective which helped Members to understand the views of local residents.
· Interest and attendance could be boosted if Town and Parish Councils were given early notification of the upcoming events. For example, event details could be included in Town and Parish newsletters. It was felt that greater involvement of the Town and Parish Councils was a useful suggestion and would be pursued.
· It was important to use well known, accessible venues in order to boost attendance. For example, the use of St Crispin’s school had generated a good turnout with good parking provision. Running the sessions at different times as an experiment would also help to identify the most suitable timings for local residents.
· Early notice of the upcoming events could be included in the annual Council Tax billing process. The sessions could also explain the different elements of the Council Tax bill, e.g. Town and Parish precepts, police and fire, etc.
· In terms of locations, it was suggested that Shinfield should be included and that the Crescent Centre was a good location for Earley. It was also suggested that a Saturday morning session in the Wokingham market place could attract residents. This location had worked well in relation to the town centre regeneration process.
· In relation to the presentations on individual services it was considered that Officers should highlight key risks and the way in which decisions impacted on a range of services. For example, savings in a discretionary service area could help to mitigate the increasing demand for statutory services in another service area.
· It was important to establish success criteria for the sessions and to carry out an evaluation at the end of the process. If the sessions were not deemed to be successful, alternative methods of communication with residents should be considered.
· Greater use of social media and online content were suggested. For example, video of the budget presentation could be posted on line and be followed up with an online survey.
· It was suggested that the presentation slides be amended to clarify the areas of spending which were controlled by the Council and which areas were ring-fenced.
1) Councillor Anthony Pollock and Graham Ebers be thanked for attending the meeting;
2) the ideas and suggestions put forward by the Committee be considered for inclusion in the participatory budget process to be undertaken later in 2016;
3) Councillor Pollock and Graham Ebers be invited to attend the Committee meeting on 22 November 2016 to provide feedback on the delivery and outcomes from this year’s participatory budget exercise.