Local Government Magazine
Elizabeth HughesLG MagazineLocal Democracy

Making a sow’s ear into a pricey silk purse

Something that the LTP process highlights even more than in local government elections are the ‘delusions of relevance’ that local government operates under. By Elizabeth Hughes.

When you think about the magnitude of costs (actual dollars) that goes into meeting the requirements of the LTP process – you’d have to say, the return on investment is pretty negligible.

So, what price democracy, or at least maintaining a perception of it, and is it worth it?

Actual dollar costs for one LTP process (not even counting the behind the people costs) will most likely include the following.

Pre-engagement activities such as getting the ideas and insights of people likely to be affected by a future decision and where these people can have some influence on the decision (ideally this will have been where most of the LTP investment went – yeah right).

Creating a consultation document (writing, translators, design, printing, circulation).

A summary of the consultation document (because you know in your heart of hearts that no sane, “normal” member of the public is going to be able to wade through your CD, no matter how user-friendly it is, and give you feedback).

A website/web presence, photography, pull-up banners, signage, and regular Facebook and Insta posts.

Submission forms (hard copy/electronic copies).

Resourcing a range of different venues and events to invite feedback – “have your say”.

Advertising (at the very least these will include social media and newspaper ads but also possibly radio, billboards, bus backs, direct mail, video etc).

Auditors (who clearly run a brilliant business model).

Maybe even investment in a special technology system to receive, collate and respond to submissions?

Hearings (days of people coming to have their say – and sometimes about things that are not even part of the LTP process)’

And, finally, creating a ‘final’ LTP.

All this just to get the public’s input into something they really don’t care about because it largely has no relevance to them.

Isn’t it patently obvious? And isn’t the LTP process the worst possible prescription to try and remedy a local democracy deficit?

If you ask people; ‘do you care about local democracy?’ – most would say, “What?”.

But if you ask them; ‘do you care what happens in your neighbourhood?’ – they’d generally say; “Yes.”

This is where the relevance is for people – this is what they care about.

A draft LTP will, by the very nature of its future focus, strategies, complexities and trade-offs, never (ever) be something that attracts or holds the interest of your average citizen.

It’s no wonder that most attention at times like these gets paid is to the rates rise instead of the story that is trying to be told. At least the rates are something people can relate to.

For LTPs councils would be way better off getting together a truly representative cross-section of their communities (covering all demographics, lifestyles and interest groups) and sitting them down for a couple of days to run through what the council is thinking of doing and then using this feedback to inform decision-making.

Participants may have to be incentivised or paid to get them along but, if councils genuinely want to get the views of people in their communities (and civic duty was actually valued), then this should not be a problem.

The squeaky wheels could still have their say because they happen to be in the very tiny minority of your community who find council stuff relevant and, good or bad, give a damn.

And while their views matter, they shouldn’t be able to overwhelm the views of the silent majority (which is what can happen in a formally prescribed submission process).

The auditors would just be paid to focus on the financials – ie does this add up and can the council afford it (imagine what a saving that would be!).

This would be a much cheaper process and, frankly more “democratic”.

Local government’s adherence to its delusion of relevance – admittedly prescribed by central government’s legislative processes – contributes to significant resource repeatedly being invested in targeting people who do not care, and who have no need to care.

The reality is – the LTP process is a sow’s ear made into a pricey silk purse.




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