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COMMENT-MAKING THE MOST OF AN INSIGNIFICANT TURNOUT

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The option of mayor and council manager has had a ringing endorsement from Shepway DC residents. ...
The option of mayor and council manager has had a ringing endorsement from Shepway DC residents.

Except it has not. A remarkably low response rate from residents suggests the vast majority do not care one way or the other.

A special edition of the council's newspaper, Shepway Today, was sent to 33,000 homes. Only 85 responses came back.

Only 47 of the council's partners and stakeholders - which includes staff - responded. Just two of these were received via the internet. The biggest sample was

a phone survey of 500 residents.

Of these, 41% favoured a mayor/manager model.

The mayor/cabinet model got support from 32% and leader/cabinet 20%. But clearly the overall response, for a council with a population of over 100,000, was very poor.

Moreover, residents made a series of responses in direct contradiction to their preference for a directly elected mayor.

For example, they wanted the council to be run by a group of people rather than just one or two.

It emerged from the consultation that the council does not communicate or consult well: 'It needs to be imaginative about communicating . . . there was not a feeling that the council is listening to local people or taking account of local views.'

The council is now in a tricky position. The low response rate could be to do with a lack of publicity on the council's part, as much as lack of interest. Is it going to show it has listened, and accept the result of the survey?

If it goes for this choice, it could do worse. Other consultations around the country show the popularity of directly elected mayors with the public is widespread - if Shepway had got more responses, it might have had the same result.

It might be a odd for Shepway to end up with a mayor and council manager, a model usually associated with big cities. But smaller councils need outward-looking, innovative leadership just as much as the bigger ones - a style of leadership this model provides.

The consultation also revealed a dislike of 'party politicking', an aspect of council life a mayor and manager could leave to one side.

The council is not sure what to make of the result, and is right to think through its response carefully. But it has an exciting opportunity to test a political model which could deliver great benefits.

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