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A panel of 1,600 Barnsley citizens will give its views on a range of local government and health issues for the fir...
A panel of 1,600 Barnsley citizens will give its views on a range of local government and health issues for the first time next month.

Members of Barnsley Voice will influence the future decisions and working practices of Barnsley MBC and Barnsley Health Authority by taking part in up to four postal surveys a year.

The first survey will gauge the level of satisfaction among customers of Barnsley Council and examine attitudes towards healthy lifestyles.

Questions will relate to the council's opening hours and responsiveness to enquiries and complaints. Panel members will say what they think of the council's objectives and the openness of its decision-making.

In line with the health authority's bid to reduce heart disease in Barnsley, respondents will also be asked what help people need to give up smoking and to reduce fat intake.

The setting up of Barnsley Voice as the borough's first citizens' panel follows market research carried out last year by consultants NOP. Residents were asked how the council should modernise and how they would like to be involved in its decision-making.

Ten thousand local people drawn at random from the electoral register were invited to apply. From those who responded, 1,600 were carefully selected to ensure they were representative of the borough's wider population.

Barnsley Council's marketing officer, Fiona Henderson, has been involved in setting up the panel, which is funded and managed jointly by the council and health authority.

'The Barnsley Voice will ensure that the public have the chance to say how they feel about many issues which the council and health authority are debating. Both organisations will be able to make more informed decisions on issues which have a direct impact on the public.

'A panel of this type is a very cost effective way of carrying out regular research. Panel members can expect to receive three or four surveys through the post each year and some members may be asked to attend a focus group at some stage.'

After each survey, panel members will receive a newsletter informing them of the results and explaining how the information has been used. Barnsley councillors and officers will receive a detailed report to inform their discussions and decisions.

Barnsley Council leader Stephen Houghton said: 'The launch of the citizens' panel is another exciting innovation for Barnsley. It will work in conjunction with other forms of public consultation, such as the regular area forum meetings, and will show local people that we are committed to listening to their views.'

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