As a diversion from our sarcasm and irreverence and as part of our public interest / public service remit we publish correspondence concerned with the ‘re-imagining’ of Wirral Council’s Leisure and Cultural Services. I think we all know what ‘re-imagining’ is Council-speak for don’t we folks?
As far as we’re concerned it is the manifestation of former Tory PM David Cameron’s ‘Big Society ‘ (remember that?) . This so-called big idea was nothing more than the further rolling back of the state and the jeopardising of philanthropic bequests of open spaces and buildings for the benefit of all under the guise of ’empowerment’ and ‘community involvement’ and ‘localism’.
Wirral Council appear to be doing their pretend ‘consultation’ schtick again as the grandiloquently titled Strategic Commisionner – Environment , Mark Smith sends out details of surveys and workshops . It’s fair to say there’s a great of deal of concern about developments among Friend’s groups and volunteers .
This is an extract from an initial response from Wirral Parks Forum :
- There has been inadequate consultation with key stakeholders by the London based consultants, Bates, Wells, Brathwaite (BWB) in the preparation of their report “Wirral BC – Re-imagining Leisure and Cultural Services.”
- Numerous Friends Groups, volunteer organisations, Trade Unions, Parks Friends Forum and Friends of the Libraries have all expressed significant concerns over the contents and accuracy of this report not least because the key stakeholders, who know our Leisure and Cultural Assets best, have not been involved or consulted over the production of this report.
- We believe it is expensive folly to have spent £284,000 of Taxpayers money on a report without recourse to such important stakeholders as their knowledge and experience is vital in bringing out key issues in developing future options for our Leisure and Cultural Assets.
- By disenfranchising these key stakeholders at this stage of the process the Council risks missing out on significant benefits and therefore this process should be paused to allow a period of consultation and engagement, which is missing from the BWB report, prior to moving to options appraisal and development of the full business case.
Ultimately the committee voted to proceed to Phase II – i.e a Business Case with the proviso there would be a period for consultation. This was to take place in a 5 week period. The Business case was to be prepared for September 2017.
The Wirral Parks Forum Committee was in the process of organising our diaries with the intention of meeting with all Friends groups regarding the forthcoming consultation, when we received the following email regarding the consultation.
I urge you to get as many Friends group members to apply for a place on a workshop and to encourage every member and their friends to complete the on line survey. Perhaps put the links up on your Facebook pages? I have applied for a place and will have to wait 5 days to have it confirmed or rejected. I will write to Mark Smith Strategic Commissioner – Environment, to express my concern regarding the process as it maybe that Friends Groups committees may not get a chance to get someone on a workshop. There are only 4 workshops of 2 hours each and they are clearly space limited. I will ask if there can be deeper consultation with Friends of Parks groups over the summer period. I feel this is an important issue, as Friends Groups provide many volunteer man hours and raise a lot of money to keep their local parks functioning and running events.
As you are aware we are considering how leisure, libraries and cultural services could be delivered in the future in Wirral. These services play a vital role in the lives of not only residents but also those visiting our borough. They are crucial for the health, wellbeing and development of residents but also contribute to our local economy.
We want sustainable services that meet the needs of users and visitors, now and in the future and remain committed to the Pledges we made as part of the Wirral Plan, most notably:
“we will encourage more people to enjoy a wide range of leisure, cultural and sporting opportunities on offer across Wirral. We will listen to resident’s ideas and requests, and by 2020, we will have increased access to events and activities to all our residents, regardless of age and income”
To achieve this aim, we need to think about the way that we deliver services and consider innovations that will continue to provide the right outcomes for the community whilst responding to the budget pressures that the council faces
We do not want to ask people for input once a decision has been made. Instead, we have the opportunity to work on ideas together, to get a better understanding of what people want and need, and to feed this into the design and decision making process.
To do this, we are inviting key stakeholders to attend workshops that will focus on each service area. Workshops will run between 17th July and 26th July. We would be delighted if you could join us. Spaces are limited so please apply for a space via our online booking system (link to booking) indicating which session you would like to attend. Spaces will be allocated on a first come first served basis.
The intention for each session is to have an introduction by either Andrew Elkington, Interim Director for Community Services, or Mark Smith, Strategic Commissioners for Environment, followed by facilitated round table discussions where we will consider:
- your opinions about the existing services
- your views on priorities for the evaluation of future options
- your ideas and innovations
- your concerns
In addition, we are asking the general public to join the conversation by participating in an online survey which you can access via this link. Staff will also be invited to contribute through the same survey and their own workshops. Please feel free to contribute to the survey if you’re unable to make it to a workshop session.
All of the information gathered across these different forums will be used to:
- Inform how services could be delivered in the future – this will form part of a Full Business Case which will outline options and will go to Cabinet in October
- Generate ideas for innovation in specific services – this will also influence the Business Case but will be of most value once a decision has been made and services are looking at the detail of delivery for their area
- Help us to understand what’s important to people, what works well and not so well – again this will inform the Business Case but will create added insight and intelligence about what local people and groups value.
To be clear, we are not considering any fundamental changes to the services received across Libraries, Leisure and Culture Services. We are considering how these services could be delivered in the future and who is best placed to deliver them to ensure that they are sustainable; this could be by continuing to provide services directly by the council or through an alternative delivery model such as a council owned company or charitable trust
I appreciate that many of you may have already contributed to a recent review of library services but we wanted to make sure that people were invited to participate across all service areas. We will do our best to avoid duplicating any of this with you during the workshop.
Strategic Commissioner – Environment