Saturday, January 16, 2016

Local Forums - A Year On

Guest post from Eddie Barnes

I can honestly say that a funny thing happened on the way to the Forum, funny at least that I found myself mixed in with the Friends of the Redbridge Music School by virtue of being a concerned parent. Having now seen the notes of the last meeting posted on the Council website, I'd like to make some observations and comments.

And the band played on - outside the Town Hall earlier
I hadn't attended the Local Forums for over a year. However, as a parent concerned over the way the Council seem to be pushing through a decision to outsource the management of Redbridge Music School (RMS) to Vision, I felt I needed to attend the Local Forum held at King Solomon High School on 16th December.

If you were there, you will recall that several questions on the subject provoked quite a heated debate. If you weren't there, perhaps you might have wanted to catch up on the salient points from the Notes of the meeting - recently posted on the Council website.

Ok, so what do the Notes say? After all, the link says "complete questions and answers".

Let me quote from the "disclaimer" that now appears at the top of the Notes (PDF file, encrypted to prevent copying and pasting):
"At Local Forums the Question Time section is approximately one and a half hours and is designed to allow a discussion of the topics raised by the public. The questions have been ordered by theme and do not represent the order the questions were asked at the meeting. The notes represent a summary of the key topics covered at the meeting. To hear the full discussions please join us at a future Local Forum".
If you then read down to the section where the item about RMS appears, you'll find a very bland summary, a precis of the Leader's response and a link to the Council's "official response" on their website. Some of the key points that were raised by the questioners at the meeting - such as the lack of transparency, competancy of Vision and the fact that the RMS staff had been neither notified or consulted - finding out only via a "leaked" internal memo within the Labour Group - have been airbrushed out of the questions, but appear as unquestioned statements of fact in the response.

Or - as the Notes imply - if you really want to know what happened at the meeting, you ought to have been there.

(I cannot comment on the other topics covered, but would ask other attendees whether the Notes represent a "fair" summary of the questions they asked and the answers received.)

So, a year on from the last time I attended a Local Forum, what else has changed?

For a start, the link above still talks about a "Market Place" from 6:30pm onwards, prior to starting the "Question Time". Well it appears that the Market Place has been dropped due to lack of interest. Question Time therefore starts sometime after 6:30pm, or (as it seemed last month), when those running the meeting can be bothered to start. If you want to take part in the discussion (and don't want to look silly by asking a question on a topic that's been raised already), then you need to aim to be there for 6:30pm - which rather disenfranchises many of us who need to come along after work.

Compared to the previous times, the audience was appreciably smaller. There didn't appear to be as much interest from the local press. Even the number of Councillors, party workers and general hangers-on seemed reduced. Perhaps it was because it was too near to Christmas. Despite the low numbers, the discussion was "lively". You should have been there.

2 comments:

  1. Quote: Let me quote from the "disclaimer" that now appears at the top of the Notes (PDF file, encrypted to prevent copying and pasting) ...

    I think you'll find that this is an anti-tamper measure but it easily possible to use Optical Character Recognition (OCR) to recover the original text.

    One free resource I've used successfully is http://www.onlineocr.net/

    Unfortunately it only decodes the first page of a multi-page document or, at least, appears to but it does include multi-page decoding if you take the trouble to register, as I did.

    I fully expected to be asked for money at this stage, so I was pleasantly surprised when it didn't! To prove it, here are the minutes in full as a Word document. I haven't read every single word but I can't see any obvious errors - it has even attempted, with varying degrees of success, to decode the graphic at the top of every page!

    I have used paid for OCR software in the past but this freebie is so vastly improved that it blows the older stuff out of the water!

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  2. This blandification of what actually was discussed has been a hallmark of this council's endemic culture for over 20 years. Think they will change? 'course not.

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