Tonight saw Surrey Heath Borough Council’s Executive Committee meet with the first item being to consider the Council’s Annual Plan for 2017/18. The purpose of this is to explain simply to the public what the Council intend to do and apparently to be accountable.
So here using the exact words are some of the plans for this coming year that were agreed. You can come to your own view as to whether this is a genuine attempt at positive vision and clear targeted action or just a load of meaningless non committal words dressed up as a plan.
The Council state that “In 2017/18, we will..”
1. “Work to increase residential development within the borough.”
Laudable but Surrey Heath BC does receives hundreds of planning applications every year – many are for residential developments and the Council would ordinarily consider these as part of their ordinary work.
2. “Work with Business Associations across the Borough to develop projects to deliver improvements.”
Great but Business Associations would hardly wish to work with the Council to deliver worsening services. What projects are we talking about, what improvements and how will we know these are actually improvements?
3. “Work with partners to promote the health and wellbeing of our residents and encourage delivery of activities that promote sport and healthy living.”
Which partners? What activities? How can this be measured? Note “encourage delivery” rather than actually delivering anything.
4. “Deliver a programme of high quality community events.”
Great but then the Council would hardly wish to deliver a programme of low quality community events. How many events and how will the Council know whether or not it has been a high quality or even a successful event? No of people attending? Satisfaction surveys? Town Centre footfall on those days? Retail sales on those days?
5. “Encourage an increase in the number of volunteers delivering sport and health related activities and events.”
Note this doesn’t say actually increasing the number of volunteers but merely encouraging this. The Council could therefore tick this off by sending out one tweet during the year encouraging people to become volunteers.
6. “Promote Surrey Heath as a location for companies to invest in.”
Note this doesn’t say that we would set a target to increase the number of companies or increase business investment into the area but merely promoting Surrey Heath. Again a simple tweet would tick this box.
7. “Continue to explore alternative ways to deliver our services more efficiently.”
How are the public meant to know whether or not this has actually been achieved? How will efficiency be measured? How many services will be considered for potential alternative ways in the next 12 months?
All of these are examples of passive language which don’t actually commit the Council to doing anything very much at all. Despite this, I have no doubt that in 12 months time, we will all be boastfully told that wonderful achievements have been made in all of the above areas despite little or no actual evidence being produced to back up these claims.
Interestingly, the Council have also decided this evening to repeat the Camberley International Festival and Cllrs were told that last year was a success because there were some magazine articles and some local radio interviews about the Festival. However, no actual figures were presented about the number of members of the public attending or involved. To be fair, the Executive Member did suggest measuring success through increased footfall in the town centre or feedback from host venues but this was oddly corrected by officers who suggested it was too early for this.
The logic of measuring success suggests that if I do an occasional interview on local BBC radio that I must therefore be a successful Cllr? Hmm… don’t think it works like that…