Select Committee on Public Administration Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum by the London Borough of Sutton

Sutton has a long track record of citizen consultation. It has carried out a Borough-Wide Survey every two years since 1987, and holds a regular programme of smaller surveys among residents and service users. It has carried out a budget consultation exercise for the last seven years. Sutton has increased its range of consultation methods because of Best Value and other local government developments. The following is three examples of citizen participation in the last year that we consider innovative.


  Sutton ran seven Best Value reviews in 1999. It was clear that some residents would have the capacity to give relevant informed opinions to more than one of the reviews. Therefore we held some focus groups aimed not at specific review, but as part of a corporate consultation programme. A second advantage was that we were able to speak to non-users of services. Users of our libraries and adult education college, for example, have traditionally given these services a high satisfaction score. We used these focus groups to target non-users of these services to find out if there was any obstacle among sections of the community that prevented them using the services.

  The cost of the four focus groups, facilitated by an independent third party, was £9,000. There were economies of scale because several services shared the cost. The exercise was a success, participants happily took part and we will repeat it.


  Sutton held a Listening Day in Sutton High Street as part of its contribution to Local Democracy Week. A rota of elected members and senior officers staffed a mobile caravan and invited passers-by to tell them what was on their mind.

  More than 150 residents took part. We sorted some problems and queries immediately by contacting the relevant officer by mobile 'phone. In other cases we took details and responded to the resident by letter or 'phone.

  The event was cheap to run, the total cost was under £500 for items including publicity and stationery. This does not include the cost of officers' and members' time. Residents said that they welcomed the opportunity to meet Councillors in this informal way. We did not publicise the event widely enough and this is something we would improve if we repeat the exercise.


  Sutton produced its first Community Plan in June 1999. We delivered this document to all 74,000 households in the borough, local businesses and other stakeholders. We included a reply-paid consultation card with the plan, this is the first time that we have consulted all residents in the same consultation exercise.

  We asked residents to comment on the Council's objectives for this year and to say if they thought we should keep these objectives next year. We also asked them to let us know which model of political leadership best suited Sutton Council. About 2,700 residents responded. We analysed the responses for strategic directors to inform the action-planning.

  The cost of the Community Plan was about £30,000, including distribution. By combining the consultation with the plan, we kept the extra cost to a minimum.

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