Monday, January 07, 2008

Resident Inspectors?

My local council (Hackney) is asking residents to volunteer to be 'resident inspectors', which "sits alongside the programme of mystery shoppers that we already have up and running" and whose role is "to examine an area of our service and find out what works well and what could be done better". The Council has commissioned a consultancy, Campbell Tickell, to get the project off the ground.

I believe strongly that the left should take a lot more interest in the politics of working-class communities, and am pretty actively involved myself. From this point of view, I have a few concerns about the 'resident inspectors' proposal and would welcome views.

1. How can we be sure that a 'resident inspector' actually represents the views of the community in which they live? If residents simply volunteer, rather than being elected by their Tenants' & Residents' Assocation (TRA), and if they report only to the Council not to the TRA, then what is to stop them putting forward views that are only their own and may actually contradict those of their neighbours?

2. My suspicions are always aroused when there is a consultancy firm involved. There is a record of these costing the Council a lot of money and ending up telling the Council what the TRA could have told them for nothing all along!

3. Although the Council's blurb states that they see resident inspectors as "people who work collaboratively with our staff", if I were a trade unionist in Hackney Council, I would have two big worries - firstly, that 'resident inspectors' might be used to spy on Council staff; and secondly, that this inspection work should be done by paid Council staff, and as such, 'resident inspectors' might be a means by which the Council is getting work done for free by well-meaning volunteers at the expense of (potential) Council jobs.

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