One of the long-standing debates in local government is how to engage the public in the work we, as councillors, are doing. Recently you considered whether elected members should be holding public meetings in their wards and the mixed reaction, and attendance, they received.
As part of the Scrutiny process in Medway, we recently tried something different to increase public engagement and held our Health Overview and Scrutiny meeting in the community away from the usual council chamber.
Soon after being appointed Chair of the Health Committee, I quickly realised that not only did no members of the public attend our meeting, but neither did the press.
With the support of my committee colleagues, from all sides, we decided to hold our second meeting out in the community. We chose a Social Club and used the Winter Flu Plan presentation from our partners and the all party opposition to a recently installed phone mast as the catalyst to attract our audience and set about advertising the event.
Using our normal press contacts (who, quite frankly, were singularly unimpressed) we also extended our advertising with the use of posters in local shops and businesses, and even spent an evening handing out
flyers to commuters on their way home.
I have to say that we were fully supported by our Overview and Scrutiny officer team and enjoyed a very successful evening. The press also turned up and readers might be interested in the e-mail that was
sent to me by a usually sceptical journalist the following day:
"Many thanks for highlighting the importance of last night’s meeting to us.
It proved to be very enlightening.
I think the idea of allowing a few questions from the public and holding it in the community is something the council should consider repeating in the future. It is a good example of opening up the decision-making process and allowing the public to see democracy in action.
Please let us know of any future plans to repeat it."
We plan to use the Older Persons Plan to be the catalyst for our next meeting, at a difference local venue in October. All part of our Health Scrutiny plan here in Medway to lead the way in public engagement.