We don’t like to keep criticising the council, but….

Apologies that this is a long-ish item.  Especially as it ends with a depressing conclusion.

According to Wikipedia,

“Action items are usually created during a discussion by a group of people who are meeting about one or more topics and during the discussion it is discovered that some kind of action is needed. The act required is then documented as an action item and usually assigned to someone, usually a member of the group. The person to whom the action is assigned is then obligated to perform the action and report back to the group on the results.

Action items are usually documented in the meeting minutes and are recorded in the task list of the group. As people complete action items, the items are documented as being completed and the item is removed from the list of outstanding action items”

IS THAT A REASONABLE DESCRIPTION OF AN EFFICIENT WAY OF PROCEEDING?  (Do decide whether it IS reasonable before reading any further.  It’s how we’ve operated for years when chairing formal meetings.)

So, what has this got to do with Camberley – or, more precisely, with Surrey Heath?   Well, for quite a few months we’ve been aware of a group within the council called the ‘Camberley Town Centre Future Management Working Group’.  We know what its aims are, and the identity of the participating councillors.  But we don’t know what it’s actually doing.  However, at its meeting on 1st March, the council executive agreed that “The Notes of the meeting of the Camberley Town Centre  Future Management Working Group of 8 December 2015 and 12 January 2016 be made public”.  That was about eight weeks ago – surely more than long enough to post a couple of documents on a website?.

Executive minutes

But – and you can see where this is leading – we can’t find any trace of those working group minutes.  Indeed, entering ‘Town Centre  Future Management Working Group’ into the council website’s search box produces precisely nothing.  (As usual, it’s better to ignore the website search box and go straight to Google.).  Google finds several related documents – but no minutes of the working group.  So we strongly suspect that the executive’s decision has never been followed through.  Which isn’t a surprise at all; most of Wikipedia’s guidance about running efficient meetings hasn’t been followed.  The action to publish the minutes wasn’t allocated to anyone, and subsequent meetings haven’t – as far as we can tell – checked to make sure that the action has been carried out.

If we’re right, and the council can’t publish a couple of minutes efficiently, what chance is there that it can manage something important like regenerating the town centre?  Near enough zero, we suspect.



10 thoughts on “We don’t like to keep criticising the council, but….

  1. As it happened, a meeting of this very group was due to take place this evening although I could not attend myself but sent a substitute. Two previous meetings have already taken place which I have attended.

    This is a Council working group which means that it is not a decision making body. As such, it meets privately with the purpose being to make recommendations to the Council’s Executive (which is the decision making body). I can assure that no decisions have been made by this group in relation to the Town Centre and nor will there be. The reason why these discussions cannot be in public is because it covers commercially sensitive, legal or other “exempt” matters. This is standard practice in local government and is actually a legal requirement under the Local Government Act.

    The Council also has other working groups for various topics so not just in relation to the Town Centre. The reason is that a smaller group of Cllrs can get into the detail of particular topics rather than expecting the Executive to do this.

    Obviously at this stage, I cannot therefore go into the detail of these meetings suffice to say that any recommendations will come to Council Executive for consideration and where possible published in due course.

    • Understood, Rodney. But the decision I’m focusing on was simply the executive’s decision to make minutes public – which hasn’t, as far as I can tell – been done. I don’t expect commercially-sensitive information be made available to all.

    • Rodney, I think we’re a bit at cross purposes. I’ll try to clarify what I attempted to say: The executive made a decision. It did not say who was responsible for carrying it out, or how it would be done. The decision was minuted and the minutes approved at a subsequent meeting. At no point did the executive check to confirm that its decision had actually been carried out – and it hasn’t been. This is a failure of PROCESS. Which is why I’m pessimistic about the council’s ability to manage something difficult, like regeneration. To further clarify, the decision concerned was to publish the minutes of the town centre management working group (not the executive minutes). I was surprised by this decision because the minutes presumably contain sensitive information. However, the content of the decision is secondary here – it’s the inadequate PROCESS that’s my concern. (As my extract from Wikipedia confirms, there is an accepted process by which meetings can make and manage decisions efficiently. So I’m not expressing just a personal prejudice here. If you agree that the process was lacking, perhaps the ‘Other’ group within the council could urge that it is improved.)

  2. That explanation, from Rodney Bates, while reasonable does not really alter the fact that the time it takes for anything to actually get done is unconscionable. Endless committee meeting but very little action and even less transparency.

  3. David,

    Could not agree more! The words piss and brewery are used in a well known phrase about organisation!


    Ian McLaughlin

  4. People are not asking for all the details whether Commercially sensitive or not, just some information as to how the proposed redevelopment is progressing or not it’s called Communication probably not a word in the Council’s vocabulary.

  5. To quote Mr Bates- “No decision have been made by this group in relation to the Town Centre and nor will there be”.
    It is good to see there is consistency in the council committees whether executive or working groups .
    Maybe have another working group to advise this working group to advise the the Executive on how to make decisions regarding the town centre ?
    Of course that would rely on good communications- ah, we need another working group to advise on how to communicate effectively and in a timely fashion.

    • To avoid any doubt, I am not speaking on behalf of the Council and as a non Conservative Cllr, spend much of my time disagreeing with them. I do agree with M Reeves that the Council communication on town centre development has not been great and have already raised that point on various occasions. Unfortunately, it is for the Council to explain these reasons rather than me but totally appreciate the frustration especially for town centre businesses and affected local residents that they have not done so thus far.

      Turning to the comments from “indieretailer”, I’m not critical of the Council setting up a small number of targeted groups to look in detail about certain key matters. That is different to the wider issue of Council communication with residents and businesses which I fully agree has been lacking.

      Finally, without wishing to get too technical about Cllr/officer protocols, Cllrs do not decide (and therefore name in the minutes) which individual officer enacts a particular decision as that is an operational staffing matter. Each committee has a lead senior officer, legal officer and a committee administrator and they are the ones that implement or arrange to implement the actions decided by Cllrs. The Chairman of the relevant committee gets regular briefings and should check/chase this. Unfortunately as I am not a Chairman, I can’t explain the particular circumstance raised. However, I would say that the two previous meetings mentioned were basic preparatory ones so the minutes are pretty dull with the summary published in the Exec report link.

      • Many thanks, Rodney. I appreciate what you’ve written. I’ll stick with my view that making decisions but not following them up isn’t a good process, but I understand why this happens.

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