Consultation and engagement are words commonly heard at council and they are often the source of debate for elected members. The whole process of consultation is open to wide interpretation and people frequently challenge its worth. How much consultation is the right amount?
Some members of the public believe elected members are elected to make decisions on their behalf and therefore we should just get on with things. Unfortunately, it is not always that simple.
There are a numerous parliamentary acts that require councils to consult with their communities. Some are very prescriptive on how the consultation process must happen and the associated costs increase rapidly when there is an external audit component added in. As an example, the consultation process for a really significant document such as our Long Term Plan (LTP) will cost in the vicinity of between $60K and $80K, so what benefit do we get from it?
The LTP is the single most important planning document that council writes. It sets out the strategic direction, future projects, service levels and long-term budget and rates forecasts. It is an all-inclusive, set plan for the next 10 years, effectively meaning that, in a nutshell, if a project or activity is not included when this plan has its triennial review, it is unlikely to happen.
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The LTP will be formally reviewed in early 2021, and there will be broad opportunity for the community to have input and influence the future direction of the Stratford District Council. There will be some meaty subjects for us to debate and ponder over in this climate of heightened awareness and challenges.
As part of the process to write a LTP, council is required to review all of its activities and service levels. This is a monumental task for council officers and elected members alike. We've been working our way through a mountain of topics this year, systematically reviewing each before we bring the outcomes together to form the first draft of the 2021 LTP. That draft will go through a further series of checks before a final draft version is released early in the New Year.
The feedback and submissions received by council on all subjects is a vital part of the democratic process and it definitely influences our thinking. Some elected members will put more weight on the number of submitters supporting or opposing a proposal, while others will be more influenced by what the submitter says and the credibility of their argument. Then, when we take into account all the other information available to elected members it soon becomes very clear, this is not an exact science and not everyone will get what they want.
I encourage everyone to take part and have their say whenever the opportunity arises. After all, we are all part of this community and want the best future for it.