Sarah Green column
According to Government research, 55% of residents want to get involved in shaping how their public services are provided, yet only 2% actually do so.
Three-quarters of councils are now starting to experiment with programmes to engage council tax payers more, but almost two-thirds of people feel that public services neither listen nor respond to them.
The CBI continues both nationally and regionally to call for public service reform. The Government talk about "empowering people" and "double devolution" but this can only be turned into reality if local authorities take radical steps to make council tax payers' views the foundations of reforms.
We recognise that in many areas this is already being achieved, not least by private sector providers working in partnership with councils. However, we continue to call on the Government and local authorities to draw on these successes and increase the amount of influence communities can wield.
Giving communities more engagement from the planning stage all the way through to service delivery and assessment would help improve both the services and people's perception of them.
Some services in particular, such as street cleaning, can only be delivered effectively with the involvement of the public.
For example, one council polls 350 residents every three months on how satisfied they are with street cleaning services.
Ten per cent of the contractor's fee is at risk based on the results, and the contract can be terminated if satisfaction dips too low.
In another local authority, members of the public are given disposable cameras to identify `grot-spots' in need of clean-up by the street cleaning firm, and in another the contractor has given PDAs (hand-held computers) to selected `community champions' so they can send emails flagging up problems for action.
We need to look for more of these innovative and effective ways to engage people. Local authorities need to make greater use of partnerships.
This isn't something local authorities and service providers should be planning on doing at some unspecified stage in the future.
They should be doing it now. And if local authorities within the North-East are doing this, please share this so we can spread good practice.
Sarah Green is regional director, CBI North East