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Bexley Council has been reviewing its communications policies, in particular
those relating to the digital age.
I attended the first meeting of its
Sub-Committee under the Chairmanship of Nick O’Hare. Last Thursday he provided
the Resources Scrutiny Committee with a progress report.
Councillor O’Hare said he was happy to see the numbers of residents who now engage with the Council electronically. “I am very very pleased with this report.”
Councillor Danny Hackett asked if there was any data relating to “interactions on social media platforms and how many are positive and how many are negative. Are we tracking something like that?”.
No one present knew the answer to that question but the responsible Councillor officer Nick Hollier said “where adverse comments or complaints are made through those channels they are picked up and fed into the system and addressed. Tracking all the interactions would be quite a task”.
Councillor Hackett said there are effective tools available for tracking. He was critical of the frequent referrals to on-line forms. “Residents may take a quick picture of fly-tipping and upload it to Twitter while walking down the street and that is the end of their involvement. What they do not want to do is follow links to a web form and be bothered by follow up email.”
Cabinet Member Massey said that problems arise when a resident is insufficiently precise with the location.
Councillor Howard Marriner said that his electors had reported at his ward forum meeting that they have to pay in cash at libraries for things like the Garden Waste Service. He was assured that “every sort of payment would become accessible as soon as possible.
Councillor John Husband asked what had become of the Member’s Portal on the Council website. Mr. Hollier said it had only been looked at six times in a year but he recognised that “a more efficient resource for Members was required”.
Councillor Leaf admitted that he had not found any need to use the portal in at least two years. He appeared to agree with Councillor Hackett when he said that uploading to Twitter was quicker and easier than navigating through a website which can “be challenging”.
He went on to mention the Council’s email archives, residents bring up subjects and refer to previous correspondence and it is no longer easily searchable. The same sort of thing can happen in correspondence with Council officers.
Cabinet Member Massey referred to “Terrabytes of data which is never looked at again” and spoke of “getting the right balance”.
Mr. Hollier helpfully added that there are “currently ninety odd million items stored in the vault”. Much to my surprise he admitted that “the new website isn’t the easiest thing for residents to do transactions on. There are some areas which are good but others where it is perhaps more clunky”.
Improvement “is an on-going project”.
Councillor Slaughter also had problems with the Members’ Portal and made a plea for consultation “at an early stage”, the old one was neither “easy to use or contained anything really useful”
As can be seen in the adjacent photograph sitting immediately behind Councillor Slaughter was Councillor Louie French and I became aware that he was fiddling with his mobile phone.
He complained of people “not acting properly on Social Media quite a lot” and then referred to a Tweet sent by Councillor Hackett while the meeting was in progress. It was, he said, “complete garbage” and proceeded to read it out.
It said something about the Tories being critical of Council officers. It was fleeting and I did not consider it worthy of a report here but Councillor French was clearly upset by it.
Cabinet Member Massey said “It is really really sad that he (Councillor Hackett) should spend time on Social Media rather than listening to the Committee. I am a fan of Social Media it has a great place in society and in business, sadly there are a few people who abuse it and make it bad and it is quite honestly pathetic”.
The Chairman Councillor Hall reminded Members that “if they can pay more attention to the meeting rather than playing with mobile technology it would be great”.
The irony that was missed by everyone was that Danny Hackett sent what may well have been a misjudged Tweet from his Council tablet while Councillor French picked it up on his mobile, a personal one because Bexley Council does not issue such things itself. Who was unnecessarily playing with mobile technology?