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Brentwood Borough Council

FOI 5462

Leaders blog / website traffic

Request

I have noticed that Louise McKinlay's Blog doesn't appear to publish any responses from people.

http://www.brentwood.gov.uk/leaders_blog.php

I checked the latest posts, and a number of the archived blogs, (to be fair, I didn't go down the whole list) but couldn't find any responses.

Is it me? Where are they? Is it just an oversight?

Forgive me if I have missed them somehow.

However if there are no responses on there - this raises some questions:

1. Is Louise McKinlay receiving responses but BBC are not publishing them? This would mean a curbing of debate and input by local people.

2. Are people just not visiting the BBC web site in enough numbers? If so, publishing the Tenancy Strategy consultation on the website will not yield many responses. People will not be able to have a proper say on FTTs.

3. I would like to know what the traffic is on Brentwood's website, and to which pages.

4. If people do know that the blog is there, why aren't they responding? Some major and contentious issues are blogged about, and I find it hard to believe that no one is interested.

5. Do responses just go straight through and to the council, and are not meant to appear on the page at all? Why not?

Response

I have noticed that the Council Leader Louise McKinlay's Blog does not appear to have any public responses published beneath, despite a form appearing on the page. Is this correct? Is this a glitch? Or is this a one-way communication portal? Why is this? (Are people just not visiting the page? Are responses received but withheld from public view?)

• A fair number of people visit the Leader’s blog although few people leaves blog post comments.
• All comments posted upon the website generate an email that is sent to Council officers for consideration.
• The very great majority are computer generated ‘spam’. For example, of the 150 comments posted about the blogpost ‘Goodbye to Summer’, 149 were spam. The sole remaining comment would not have served the correspondent well by being published.
• Some readers send a message directly to the Leader via the email address given. Any comments for the Leader sent via the email address given are not meant to be published. The correspondent has chosen to contact the councillor in private.

How much traffic does the website receive, with figures relating to each main section / page, please?

• Please find attached a Google Analytics report of website visits for the period 23 December 2012 to 22 January 2013.
• This gives a break of the number of visitors each page received over the past month.
• I have also provided the analytics of the Leader’s blog page for the same period.

It is of concern to the public because if what is supposed to be a public consultation is placed on the Brentwood Borough Council website, if this is the main form that the consultation manifests in, and attention is not drawn to it's existence, it may not receive much traffic / not many visits, in the normal course of events / a typical day. Is it of concern to BBC? Equals = not a proper consultation / undemocratic.

• All consultations are published on our website both within the Consultations section and within the individual service’s web page. They are also released to the local media (who cover the issue as news story) and tweeted via Twitter.
• In the case of the Tenancy Consultation, this was also publicised by way of e-mails to registered landlords (who are statutory consultees), an e-mail footer to all out going e-mails from a @brentwood.gov.uk email address and through consultation with tenants via the Tenants Talkback consultative group.

Why was a decision to go ahead with fixed term tenancies made BEFORE any public consultation?

• It is not clear what is meant by the phrase “go ahead with fixed term tenancies”.
• The Tenancy Strategy is a strategic document required to provide a framework within which social housing landlords operating in the Borough (including the Councils landlord) should devise their individual tenancy policies concerning fixed term tenancies.
• The Council, having considered the matter at its Health and Housing Panel on 11 September 2012, decided that the draft Tenancy Strategy document should propose supporting the principle of fixed term tenancies, and this should be subject to consultation, but reconsidered in the light of responses to the consultation when the decision about the final strategy is adopted.
• It is planned that this decision will now take place at the Councils Policy Projects & Resources Board on 13 March 2013.
• All tenants will be consulted if any decision to introduce fixed term tenancies in the Council’s housing stock is made. This will not be considered until the Council’s Tenancy Strategy is finalised.

Why were people not told that BBC was not actually obliged to introduce them?

• Page 16 of the Tenancy Strategy (fourth bullet) reads “this form of tenure can be used from 1 April 2012… however, local housing authorities can decide whether to use them or not”

Why was no objective information (re background to the new law, re the "fors" and "againsts" of the argument,) distributed to the very type of population (council tenants) it would most concern?

• We consider that the draft Tenancy Strategy provides objective information and the arguments for the introduction of fixed term tenancies sufficient for people to make a reasoned choice.
• The consultation page of our website has a contact address email and telephone number and invites customers to give us feed back, particularly if they need further information.

Please supply minutes of any meetings, associated memos, letters, e-mails etc. that reflect this

• It is not clear what is meant by “that reflect this”, but it is assumed that this refers to the decisions concerning the endorsement of the consultation draft of the Tenancy Strategy.
• This decision was taken at Housing and Health Panel on Tuesday 11 September 2012:
o Agenda link:
http://www.brentwood-council.gov.uk/minutesdocs/agendas/amdoc2539.pdf
o Minutes link:
http://www.brentwood-council.gov.uk/minutesdocs/minutes/amdoc2547.pdf
o Webcast link (for limited period):
http://www.brentwood.public-i.tv/core/portal/webcast_interactive/86526


Please list the ways and means in which BBC sought public input / opinion, re FTTs, and dates.

• Fixed Term Tenancies were discussed at Tenants Talkback meeting on 13 December 2011 as part of the then forthcoming changes from the Localism Act (minutes attached refer).
• All Brentwood Borough Council tenants were consulted about fixed term tenancies as part of the rent consultation meetings in January 2012 a copy of the presentation given is attached – please see slide 24 (reform of “tenancy for life”). All tenants were invited to the meeting, the meeting was webcast.
• Fixed term tenancies formed part of the discussion about the emerging housing revenue Business Plan with Tenant Talkback at their meeting on 20 March 2012 (minutes attached).
• A discussion about fixed term tenancies occurred at Tenants Talkback on 28 May 2012 (minutes attached). In that meeting it was specifically mentioned that the Council does not have to introduce fixed term tenancies (minutes refer).
• The draft Tenancy Strategy was considered at Tenants Talkback on 4 September 2012 (minutes attached).

Please supply us with the exact wording of any publicity, information or press releases etc. distributed to the public, newspapers, and other bodies

• All our press releases are published on our website. The relevant press release can be viewed here: http://www.brentwood.gov.uk/press.php?pressId=2127

How many residents / council tenants in Brentwood was it estimated that would have access to a computer / internet?

• We do not have statistics on internet usage, merely consumer classifications of people in the Borough.
• From these, we can see that some 80% of Brentwood residents have a preference for web-based communication with the Council.
• We do recognise that there is a proportion of the local population for whom telephone or face-to-face communication is a preference.

How many people was it estimated would see the consultation on BBC's website, if attention were not drawn to it?

• Since the Tenancy Consultation was first published online (15.11.12 to date), the webpage has had 182 page views. In addition, the Consultations webpage, which has reference to the Tenancy Consultation, had a further 131 page views in the same period.

Who worded the online "public consultation" questions regarding the Tenancy Strategy? Was any account taken of the need for clarity and plain English, and freedom from jargon / housing department housing expert speak?

• The consultation questions were taken directly from the Tenancy Strategy and are explained in the document. The Tenancy Strategy seeks to be as jargon free as possible by including a glossary of key terms.

Why was the wording of the questions almost lifted straight from the document itself? Was this an attempt to simplify them, or ...?

• The questions were taken directly from the key principles of the strategy as summarised in section 3 of the draft document. These were deliberately chosen so that responses would focus directly on the Council’s key principles of the Tenancy Strategy Framework.
• As such, this would ensure that we would have a clear response as to whether the Councils principles were supported or not by consultees.
• However, in the questionnaire we also gave 3 text fields for consultees to give broad views.

Why were the questions based on a ready-made decision regarding acceptance of FTTs, and this not made clear in the questionnaire? Isn't that a fundamental fact to include in a democratic properly informed consultation?

• The Tenancy Strategy consultation web page invites consultees to first read the Tenancy Strategy consultation draft and then complete the Tenancy Strategy questionnaire. The questionnaire has not been designed to provide a summary of the Tenancy Strategy nor to be completed without prior consideration of Tenancy Strategy documents.
• As already stated, the Council, having considered the matter at its Health and Housing Panel on 11 September 2012, decided that the draft Tenancy Strategy document should propose supporting the principle of fixed term tenancies, but this should be subject to consultation.
• The consultation document seeks to reflect that decision – one of the questions asks consultees “do you agree with the principle of fixed term tenancies” it allows consultees to strongly disagree with the statement and provide additional comments if they wish.

If the Brentwood Gazette articles accurately quote the press releases, why do the press releases appear biased and scare-mongering? Who wrote them? Please supply any associated documents in any recorded form re content.

• The press release regarding the Tenancy Consultation was written by our Communications Manager.