The seat of El Brute power
The seat of El Brute power

El Brute has just published the results of its ‘second annual’ Residents’ Survey. The result? Residents around the Borough are “happier than ever” with the services provided by the Council. Nice one. Get yourself a biscuit. The findings are based on taking the views of a sample of local residents and so, don’t panic, you didn’t miss out on another All in One survey or Barefoot Consultation exercise. In fact, the survey was conducted in the autumn of 2013 by an independent company. 1,405 residents participated from across the borough.

Some headlines
Overall the story is pretty positive and, as you might expect, El Brute have been keen to highlight the good news. Here are some headlines:
* 83% are satisfied with the way the Council runs the borough (compared to 77% last year)
* 57% agree the Council provides value for money (up from 48% last year)
* 79% trust the Council either a great deal or a fair amount (up from 74%)
* 96% are satisfied with the local area… although we don’t think Richmond Council can necessarily take all the credit for south west London being a desirable place to live and work.

So, all in all a pretty good picture, including the improvements on the scores from the previous year.

Not all rosy?
However it’s not all cosy and rosy in the borough. Whilst 62% feel they are informed about the Council’s services and benefits, 36% feel they receive either limited information about what the Council does or that “it doesn’t tell them much at all about what it does”. One example cited is that just 18% recall seeing or hearing about budget cuts, and only 20% about how it is trying to be more efficient. And sticking with the 20% theme, that’s the percentage of respondents who “appear to be engaged with current Council financial position”.

Ok, so two examples do not a whole picture make, but we do seem to have people who are pretty happy with things despite a significant minority not knowing the details of what’s going on. Interesting.

Twick-tastic Twickenham? Err…
And what of that troublesome town of Twickenham, we hear you cry? Well, some of the survey results are split out by the different towns and villages of the Borough and this presents some interesting contrasts.

When it comes to hot topics such as which areas find traffic congestion an issue, Twickenham takes the silver medal behind East Sheen. 67% of Twickenham residents cite it as an issue. St Margarets takes the bronze with 66%.

On the subject of satisfaction with the way El Brute runs things, Whitton and Twickenham share the top spot for the least satisfied towns. The more affluent ‘villages’ of Mortlake, Strawberry Hill and Barnes are the most satisfied.

And when it comes to trust in the Council, Twickenham takes the gold medal… but not in a good way. 27% trust El Brute either “not very much” or “not at all”. Ouch! In contrast, Barnes and Strawberry Hill are the most trusting. Bless.

How about locals’ views on whether they can influence Council decisions? Again it’s gold for Twickenham. 38% disagree with the idea that they can influence the Council (and it’s the same percentage for Whitton) compared to 20% in Mortlake and 22% in Strawberry Hill.

Low marks for trust and ability to influence? It’s not great for Twickenham compared to the rest of the borough.

Our theory?
So, despite quite a few positive stories in the survey, of all the Borough’s residents, the great twickerati appear to be a most ungrateful and distrustful bunch of renegades. But why? We reckon that the mass debates on contentious issues such as the station redevelopment and the establishment of the voluntary aided faith school can’t have helped El Brute’s cause locally. Perhaps Twickenham’s size, congestion and, at times, struggling high street result in a unique set of challenges. But we also think that the Twickenham Action Plan will have contributed too. The TWAP contains many noble aspirations to regenerate and improve the town. But once ideas get aired for discussion then the game changes. People take an interest, everyone dusts off their list of personal preferences and, if the Council opts to do something that’s not on your list then, like anyone whose opinions differ from your own, then they clearly must be a bunch of so-and-sos who don’t know what they’re talking about! And there’s also the things that people would like to see changed but over which the Council has limited control despite what we, or they, might like to think.

To quote the wise words of Run DMC: “It’s Tricky”. Consultations, action plans, advisory panels and surveys – however they’re run and delivered – all raise expectations and can make a rod for the back. Perhaps, in a certain way, Twickenham’s troublesome responses are a good sign – a sign that locals are taking an interest in issues, want change and also want to have a genuine say in shaping the future of their town. Actually, scratch ‘their town’, we should be saying ‘our town’.

So that’s one inaccurate theory. What’s yours?

* El Brute Residents’ Survey