Public consultation into how £10 million should be spent on improvements to four Kirklees town centres has been branded “pathetic and meaningless.”
Consultants working for Kirklees Council undertook an engagement exercise in Holmfirth, Batley, Heckmondwike and Cleckheaton, the four town centres set to share in the cash.
However, the response to the consultation was so poor it provoked an angry response when the results were outlined at a virtual meeting of the council’s Economy and Neighbourhood Scrutiny Panel on Thursday.
Councillors were told that two sets of nationally-recognised consultants had been employed, one for Holmfirth and another for the three North Kirklees towns.
The figures showed that 466 people responded in Holmfirth; 157 in Heckmondwike; 253 in Batley; and 312 in Cleckheaton.
Panel members made a quick calculation based on the population of the towns and found that the response rate was 1.86% in Holmfirth; 0.5% in Batley; 0.9% in Heckmondwike and 1.9% in Cleckheaton.
Clr John Taylor (Con, Kirkburton) described the numbers as “poor.” He said he had secured 600 responses to public consultation in Shepley by speaking to people outside the Co-op on a Friday night when they are buying a bottle of wine, at the junior football or in the works canteen.
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He said consultation shouldn’t be with the “same old faces and the same old voices” instead it should be “talking to people who don’t want to talk to you.”
He added: “We should have an expectation for percentage of people we are able to contact through these engagements before we recognise them as being valid.
“One hundred and fifty-seven people does not feel like we have talked to the people of Heckmondwike. The same could be argued of the others.
“If I can get 600 responses in one village getting 466 in Holmfirth, albeit that is the largest number, does not stack up and doesn’t suggest we are reaching out to people.
“It suggests we have gone to the people we always talk to because we know we will get a response but they are absolutely the people we don’t want to speak to as we know what they think. We want to talk to the people who would never talk to us.”
Clr Martyn Bolt (Con, Mirfield) said a household survey in Mirfield had some 2,400 responses or 28%. He described the Heckmondwike response rate as “lamentable.”
Clr Bolt asked how much the council was spending on the consultants and if that money was coming out of the £10 million budget. “If they are taking £5 million there’s not much coming back,” he said.
Council officer Simon Taylor, head of town centre programmes, said he would provide the figures later but added: “It’s certainly not anywhere near £5 million. It’s a very small fraction of that.”
Clr Peter McBride, the Cabinet member for renegeration, was shocked but not surprised at the low response figures.
“It’s pathetic and meaningless in research terms,” he said. “However, that’s almost normal but we take them and assume we have fully consulted with the public. There’s a general inertia.
“I share the disappointment with the numbers because it renders it meaningless.”
Mr Taylor said he would speak to the engagement team and review the results but there would be more consultation down the line when firm plans were drawn up.