First of all a little about Barnet Council. Barnet Council is in North London and is one of the two largest councils in the Greater London area, although parts of it are also in the London Postal District Area.
I live in this catchment and one day I got a letter through the post inviting me to meet the leader, together with a lot of other householders in the area, at a local school hall. My wife and I attended and we were very impressed when we learned that Councillor Mike Freer held two of these a week, progressing through all the wards of the council’s 63 councillors.
At the meeting there was a lady taking notes for Cllr Freer. Everyone asked questions, aired their complaints, and when Cllr Freer couldn’t answer a question he asked the lady to make a note of it and promised to write to all of us again in a week or two with all the answers to our questions. I was impressed, especially when a detailed report came through the post in about ten days.
Fifteen years ago I started up a community newspaper in the ward I used to live in and it is still going strong. I now have plans to start one up in my local ward and was invited to a Civic Meeting last night where I learned of how Barnet Council are trying to liaise with the younger generation by getting involved with “social networking”. They have already joined twitter – and are beginning to get a good following – and, I believe, Facebook.
The main theme of the meeting is that Barnet Council wanted to be proactive, rather than reactive. They actually wanted to search out complaints before things got bad enough for people to actually write in. People are much more likely to have a “moan” in a forum, and the council can pick these things up and put them right before they become a real issue.
We then had a brain storming session where people write ideas of how we could do things; in one example it was how we could make sure that pavings broken by tree roots could be located faster, another on how we can be informed of potholes needing filling., amongst about ten other major topics. One idea was that many cellphones had GPS and the pavement could be photographed around the tree and the GPS co-ordinates taken at the same time. One person had the idea of fixing a camera at the front of the potholes which brought a hoot of laughter. Of course, not all the ideas were practicable but even the non-practical ones might get people thinking along parallel lines. This is what brain-storming is all about.
I purposely haven’t mentioned which party controls Barnet Council because I don’t think these are party ideas. I think they are the ideas of one man, the leader. The attitudes of leaders always flow down the food-chain so the next time a member of staff in any organisation is rude to you, it should give you a very accurate guide as to that organisation’s culture – which always flows from the top. If the management is caring, believe me, it flows down the ladder.
When I contact Barnet Council I began to notice how much more helpful people had become under the new management. Now that I have met Cllr Freer, I understand why.