Planet Plan calling Earthlings in Leeds: Comm-u-ni-cate, Par-ti-ci-pate…

“Our core objective is to communicate effectively, foster transparency and encourage participation on (sic) the work we do to support economic prosperity in the city region.” (Leeds City Region website)

You can’t say fairer than that, can you?

Reading it made me feel all warm inside to see that the Leeds City Region (LCR) – the club of councils that plans the future of our communities from Ripon to Pontefract, from Skipton to Barnsley and all points in between – is serious about communication.

“At last!” I sighed:

No more aldermen huddled in secret meetings, cooking up deals with their pals from the chamber of commerce and favoured business partners

No more waiting for months for Joe Public to see what they’ve been talking about and deciding on our behalf

No more doubt as to the how the public money being shoved their way is being spent

No more excluding ordinary people who feel they may have something to contribute

Communication, transparency and participation. Perfect.

Well…that’s the theory. Here’s the reality.

Communication
Most of the Leeds City Region’s committees (or panels) meet in private. Agendas are rarely published and the minutes can take forever to see the light of day. Schedules of meetings are posted haphazardly on the LCR website, then often left to gather dust with no updates for month after month. Like so:

Participation
The people who participate in the Leeds City Region organisation are mostly councillors from all over (Leeds, Bradford, Wakefield, York, Harrogate, Halifax…), but there are some invited businessmen, some favoured consultants, some representatives of quangos…

All in all it’s the usual suspects doing what they usually do. And what they do is commission reports and come up with plans, strategies and priorities for the future of OUR communities.

Plans for investment, for transport, for housing, for employment. Draft business plans, economic evidence base plans, delivery plans. Cap-in-hand plans that go chasing whatever cash is out there from central government.

They are the Masters of Planet Plan. We are the earthlings who contribute (or not) only once the plan has been finalised and the implementation…erm…roadmapped

Anyone been asked to contribute to the Leeds City Region Housing and Regeneration Strategy and Investment Framework? Or the Urban Eco-settlement Delivery Programme? Or the Green Infrastructure Strategy? Or The Case for High Speed Rail? Or the recent Green Investment Bank business case?

Transparency
What does this LCR cost? To be fair, given its political clout, not a huge amount – £250,000 a year for staff and expenses (2010-11), plus £3.4 million more for unspecified expenditure and payments.

Where does that £3.4m go? No idea. Despite the fact that all the LCR member councils make public every one of their payments of over £500 every month, the Leeds City Region itself chooses not to. They will have their reasons.

LCR? Never heard of it
The biggest failure of the Leeds City Region communication effort is that most citizens of the Leeds city region have almost certainly never heard of the Leeds City Region, nor its Local Enterprise Partnership, let alone had sight of their “strategies”, “frameworks” and “plans”.

So, in a spirit of good will, here are a few suggestions for them:

* Open up all your meetings to the public and media. Chill out! Nothing bad will happen.

* Keep your website up to date (it’s not hard – there are plenty of professionals and amateurs in the region who can show you how)

* Get into the habit of sharing ALL your information quickly as a matter of course. You are public servants. Serve us with info.

* Next time you organise a one-day conference like last Friday’s, don’t stuff the panel full of the usual suspects in suits; make an effort to get real people involved in coming up with an agenda that includes THEIR needs and aspirations

* Chill out about this whole planning/strategy/government grant thing. You may feel locked into it, but your kind of economic planning rarely achieves results. Save precious time and paper.

* Next time you decide to take a stand on a subject like high-speed rail, don’t just ask your pals with a vested interest to write you a report, get on Radio Leeds and the Yorkshire Evening Post and ask us first to tell you what we think. We know about that kind of stuff too!

* Don’t imagine that just because you’ve got a twitter feed, it means that you’re having a conversation. Conversations are interactive. When you publish the results of the recent summit, open your website up for us to give our views

* Publish your itemised spending of over £500 every month like your member councils do. Don’t just talk about transparency. Be transparent

* If you really want to communicate, you should learn to really listen

* Don’t imagine that we’re going to go away. We aren’t.

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One Response to Planet Plan calling Earthlings in Leeds: Comm-u-ni-cate, Par-ti-ci-pate…

  1. PJ says:

    Alas, they do fear that something “bad will happen”. Outbreaks of so-called “NIMBY”ism, the patronising term that planners and their PR people use when people, quite understandably, get upset and start organising themselves to protest against intrusive and aggressive (and often
    unnecessary) developments – especially if the LCR/councils are quietly removing land out of Green Belt for housing.

    They don’t need pesky members of the public making themselves heard, doncha know! 😉

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