The pitfalls in politics are many and manifest; yet all too often, politicians are distracted by other “opportunities”. Take this past week as an example – it could be taken as a masterclass in local political communication. Our source? The generally inadequate local media, which, nevertheless, can be a useful barometer of local political weather.
Whilst the leaders of Wirral and Liverpool councils were grandstanding in China (again, pre-empting the advent in May of a metro-mayor), stories were current which threw a light on the degree to which local councils were attuned to grass roots concerns. It began in Wirral.
Extensive coverage of the cancellation of Liscard’s Christmas tree due to vandalism last year may appear a minor issue, but it set the tone for a bigger story. That was the unexplained collapse of the Neptune project to rejuvenate Birkenhead town centre. This has caused widespread consternation, and led to well-publicised complaints from Birkenhead market traders about their particular position. Naturally, the political opposition made capital of this state of affairs. The council’s response was the announcement of the cancellation of its programme of bonfire and firework displays around the borough, in favour of a joint display with Liverpool on the Mersey.
Now I know that Wirral is suffering horrendous cuts like other councils, and that Wirral has planned a newsletter to keep residents informed. Yet transparency and clear communication is a cost free way of keeping residents onside – there can be no excuse for keeping the electorate in the dark. Proper communication of council actions is a pre-requisite in the modern age. To give the impression of remoteness or indifference is political suicide.
At the same time, in Liverpool, an issue arose over the mysterious disappearance of playground equipment from city parks. To be fair to the council, recognising that a parks issue can be toxic, Cllr Munby was fast out of the blocks with an apology and an explanation. Perhaps they are learning that information to residents is the best way to assert that prevention is truly better than cure.
To give further credit where it is due, Sefton Council illustrated this with coverage of its intentions for Bonfire Night – full and informative details of the council’s offer. These may seem minor issues to many councillors, but it is these seemingly small local matters which over time shape opinions of a council’s performance and ultimately determine its fate. The key is transparency and full information.