We are now beginning to see how the Road to Damascus conversion by Labour to consulting residents over matters that effect them will actually work in practice. There was no conversion and there isn't going to be any. Instead they have come up with a scheme designed to give them the answers they wanted all along. So no change there.
Last year I had a look into the idea of providing a more flexible refuse collection service for residents in areas where there were problems with the existing alternate weekly collections. There was never any intention to impose it on residents, a clear majority needed to be in favour and there were certain criteria laid down to ensure that it was needs driven rather than politically. There are already streets in Reading that have weekly black back collections and my experience was that there were probably more where it would be beneficial to residents and the refuse collection service alike.
To acheive that I was going to assert the role of councillors as community advocates, as promoted by the Centre for Public Scrutiny and provided by the council's constitution. And the way I was going to do it was to take the lead councillor out of the equation and allow ward councillors to consult directly on options for residents based on their ward experience in a neutral fashion.
Of course, I had to junk that idea when Labour councillors refused to co-operate with the efforts to stop kerbside parking which is not only inconvenient but downright dangerous when emergency vehicles are blocked. Such consultation doesn't work if councillors are more intent on using if as party propaganda and fail in their constitutional obligation to represent all residents. Instead Labour put out misinformation and used scare tactics and refused to consult with their residents. Their non-cooperation meant that the scheme had to be put on hold and a hugely expensive consultation considered.
It was clear from their shameless behaviour that that any attempt to involve ward councillors in an honest and fair consultation would be met with hostility and yet more false propaganda.
So what do we see them doing about consultation over weekly bin collections? Yep, they want to implement the very idea which they themselves wrecked. Well, I'm sorry. If they didn't back consultation by ward councillors last year, why should they be so keen on it this year?
Simples. Being Labour it's not about doing a proper consultation at all. It's a means to an end and that end is getting the answer they wanted all along. Already you can see them putting out statements designed to gerimander the result.
There have to be serious questions asked about the conduct of one Labour councillor who has already written to residents over what is meant to be a neutral consultaion exercise at the same time telling them that she has "big reservations" over it. The timing of her letter is suspect as well as she posted that she had already started delivering letters about her "consultation" on the 1st July at 17:03 - the first day that the cabinet papers had been made available to all councillors and which aren't delivered until early evening. There has clearly been some pre- briefing from the lead councillor going on here. That's hardly unbiased consultation is it? No, it's shoddy politicing on the rates.
As a reminder, for a party has set itself so dead against weekly black bin collections, it was only in 2007 that Labour were putting on their election leaflets pleas to residents that if they wanted to get black sack collections to call their Labour councillor. Of course, we know since that date that if a Lib Dem asked for a street to go on the weekly collection list they would reject it out of hand. That's the Labour way.
Labour are in a complete mess over how to consult because quite frankly they have no idea how it is done unless it gives them the answer they wanted in the first place. Their idea of consultation, like the Shinfield Road, is to decide what the answer is and manipulate the answers until they get what they want. A few loaded questions here and there and ignoring the ones they don't like and hey presto, you get the Shinfield Road fiasco à la Labour.
Labour simply cannot be trusted for as long as their idea of consultation is to slant the questions and warp the responses. Anyone who believes in local democracy should keep well clear of this sham.
If Labour truly believe in local democracy then the only way now for residents to feel that their consultations are fair, honest and completely unbiased is for council officers to be responsible otherwise Labour risk bringing the council into disrepute.
They won't of course. An independent consultation might give an answer they don't want.