Kingston LibDems refuse to “call in the experts” after series of botched council consultations

Conservative and Green Party Opposition Councillors have slammed Kingston Council’s LibDem administration for rejecting a motion on Tuesday night that would have reformed and improved how the local authority consults with its residents.

Instead, the ruling LibDems wrecked the motion by ripping out key calls for the Council to set up a dedicated team of consultation officers, conduct a skills review and to join the Consultation Institute to ensure it abides by best practice in how it seeks residents’ views.

The council motion was proposed after a string of botched council consultations, where the views of local residents on major planning issues were either deliberately not sought or dismissed completely.

In a move which Conservatives called ‘grubby aggressive party politics’, LibDem councillors used prepared speeches to score political points, rather than improve the way consultation is carried out. The motion, presented by Conservative Councillors Jason Hughes and Ian George, sought a radical shake-up of Kingston’s consultation regime by recognising that even the Council’s own residents’ survey shows local people do not feel involved in local decision-making.

The defeated Conservative motion called for councillors sitting on the Community and Engagement Committee to be able to review consultations on large planning applications and proposed highways, parking and traffic schemes costing £50,000 or more.

As it stands, consultation is haphazardly sprinkled across council departments and dangerously confused with ‘engagement’ efforts that are simply a branch of council PR activities. The motion sought to bring Kingston Council in line with best practice councils in England and Wales with central, professional and dedicated consultation officers.

Councillors and residents who viewed the meeting online were taken aback by the aggressive anti-government speeches from leading Lib Dems, plus their refusal to join the Conservative and Green Party offer of cross-party unity on the proposed consultation reforms.

Commenting Conservative Councillor Jason Hughes said: “Listening to residents with a proper consultation set-up is the lifeblood of healthy local democracy. The Council’s own survey shows residents don’t feel involved in the decisions taken impacting on their lives.

“We offered the ruling-Lib Dems an opportunity to put grubby, aggressive party politics aside to work with us on sensible, achievable plans to shake up the sloppy out-of-touch Kingston way of consulting. They turned it down and instead just ranted about national party politics. The motion wasn’t about that. It was about what we in Kingston Council can do to really listen to residents. This is such a wasted opportunity.”

Cllr Ian George, the Conservative Spokesman for Community and Engagement, said: “Recently Kingston Council has implemented decisions on major issues without any consultation at all. Good consultation will result in improved outcomes and will save money being wasted on something that will need major changes, or even to be aborted later down the line.

“The Low Traffic Neighbourhood road closure scheme in Chessington was recently aborted at the very last minute, after a revolt by local residents. There was absolutely nothing to prevent the council from carrying out consultation that could have saved the considerable cost involved. Unfortunately, it looks like the LibDems are refusing to learn from their mistakes.”

Photo by Christina @ on Unsplash