Residents, including a former leading local government standards expert, have condemned the quality of a study to shape North Yorkshire’s new unitary authority, saying it had failed to provide details needed to make an informed decision.
Anne Seex told North Yorkshire County Council’s executive that having attended one of the many Let’s Talk Local events it had staged and having completed the authority’s online survey she had been “appalled by this poor quality, amateurish process”.
Ms Seex called into question the validity of the responses the authority would receive a month after it launched “North Yorkshire’s biggest countywide conversation”.
The exercise has seen the authority focus on what is important to residents of different communities, ranking matters such as education, affordable housing or public transport, and asking for views on proposed community networks, which are hoped will fill the void left by district and borough councils.
From April 1, the new council will deliver services including adult social care, housing, waste collection, transport, planning, community safety, children’s services, education and leisure.
It will serve the greatest geographical area of any local authority in the country, and it will have an overall spend of about £1.4 billion, including £343 million on schools.
However, Sowerby resident Helen Tomlinson told the executive that “with the new council being remote and the number of representatives being drastically reduced” it was important local democracy had mechanisms to inform and consult residents on key issues.
She said the consultation over the new council’s priorities “did not give any grounds for optimism”.
Ms Tomlinson said the survey was “a jumbled confusion of issues” which did not give the public the information they needed and had failed to include the authority’s largest spending area, adult social care, among a list of priorities for respondents to rank.
She also challenged the executive members to name their priorities.
A spokeswoman for the authority, Vanessa Glover head of Communications, replied that experienced consultation officers from the county, borough and district councils were working on the engagement exercise.
She said the engagement exercise aimed to inform the council’s ambition of being England’s most local council and wanted it to feel like a conversation.
She said: “It is not a consultation, it is an engagement exercise.”
The meeting was told the exercise had already featured some 200 community pop-up events and that 5,700 surveys had been completed in total.
She said Let’s Talk Local had never been intended to be used as a traditional survey and that the questions had been put through a quality assurance process and tested by staff from all eight councils in the county.
The spokeswoman said results from the exercise on a county-wide level would be “very reliable” and help the authority to understand what is most valued in different communities.
She added: “This conversation is just the first step in informing how the new council will work most effectively with different communities. It recognises that everywhere is different.”
The council’s deputy leader, Councillor Gareth Dadd said the executive subscribed to the view that vulnerable residents should always be prioritised.