Editor’s comment: How hard can it be to hold a consultation?

Some of the five-a-side footballers who can no longer play at Sobell. Picture: DIETER PERRY

Some of the five-a-side footballers who can no longer play at Sobell. Picture: DIETER PERRY - Credit: Archant

Those playing Local News Bingo with the Gazette this week will have observed a perennial favourite: the Sham Consultation.

Regulars of this feature will also have spotted Improvement Works That Actually Make Things Worse and Public Cash Paying For Something The Public Doesn’t Want.

This isn’t the first time in recent months that managers at the Sobell have angered an amateur sports league: readers may remember dozens of squash players downing racquets over the summer because Better, despite its name, switched off the lights so they couldn’t warm up on empty courts.

In that case, the leisure centre said it wanted to save energy (though it should be noted it had the side-effect of generating more money) but what really got players’ goat was that they hadn’t been asked about it first. In this case, Better wants to attract more people to the Sobell, which is no bad thing in itself, but yet again the players – the people of Islington and beyond who the leisure centre is there to serve, who help fund it through memberships and whose health is the reason Better exists in the first place – weren’t asked what they needed. A letter inviting them to an on-the-spot meeting in someone’s office barely weeks before work begins is hardly a meaningful consultation: are we really to believe Better was prepared to halt or redirect £3million of work with a month’s notice?

Time and again I use this column to complain about organisations failing to ask people’s opinions. Perhaps it comes naturally to us because opinions are what make a newspaper. But to organisations commanding such enormous sums of public cash, I find it hard to understand how the same PR disaster can be repeated in slow motion over and over again, as though no one is ever tasked with learning from previous mistakes.


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