Disconnecting People, Disconnecting Places

Whose tent is this?Yesterday I went to Swindon Borough Council’s central area Connecting People Connecting Places event in Wharf Green and the Parade. It was, to be generous, a waste of time.

Connecting People Connecting Places is Swindon Borough Council’s take on the government’s Communities in Control: Real People, Real Power policy. The alleged aim is to get people more interested in local government by taking power — not that there’s much left with all the centralisation and target setting by the current government — from local councils and giving it to groups of local people. Naturally, the thought that a better approach might be to take power from central and regional government and give it to local councils never crossed their mind.

With that poor and illogical reasoning behind its creation, Connecting People Connecting Places is never likely to do well. But the council and most councillors clearly aren’t trying hard either. Today’s event in the town centre had very little advanced publicity: just a page on the Swindon strategic partnership website and a news item on the Council’s website since last Thursday. The ‘cluster chair’ seemed quite unapologetic when this was lack of publicity was highlighted on the TalkSwindon forum. But given how poor the event was, I’m almost ashamed to have tried to publicise the event myself.

What was promised sounded fairly impressive.

Ward members will be on hand between 11am and 2pm at both locations with officers from Swindon Borough Council, the Local Neighbourhood Policing Team, Wiltshire Fire & Rescue Service and other volunteers to hear residents’ opinions.

There was no missing the police presence: it seemed as though every member of central Swindon’s police teams was on hand, particularly at Wharf Green. Anyone would think they’d nothing better to do, such as controlling crime. The fire service was also at Wharf Green and inSwindon in the Parade. Less visible were the ward councillors. I saw just two, both dressed in anonymous suits with nothing to identify them as councillors. In fact there was virtually nothing to identify this as a council event at all. It was more a ‘meet the police’ event than a ‘connect with your council’ event.

Council officers will use people’s favourite places in the centre of Swindon to create a virtual Google map. The map will also be used to chart areas where there are problems.

I saw paper maps and post-it notes.

In principle, using different approaches to engage with residents in sensible; but not when it’s as poorly thought out and executed as this was.