A radical culture change by Highland Council towards its staff and communities is well under way, the council’s leadership team told the P&J yesterday.
Traditional top-down methods will be turned on their heads, with communities as leaders and the council as supporters.
They hope such changes will make long-running public rows over issues like public loo closures and car parking charges a thing of the past.
After six weeks of touring the region to engage with communities, chief executive Donna Manson reiterated her commitment to listening to and empowering communities, and doing the same with staff, empowering them to act locally.
She said better communication would underpin every step of the way forward.
“During the meetings, people told us they wanted to get out of the bit of putting in FoIs (Freedom of Information requests) and spend time talking.
“We’ve held our hands up to not spending enough time in that space working things out together.
“What’s fascinating is that quite of few people have said the council needs to say yes or no rather than maybe, and their frustration has been in those grey areas where there hasn’t been enough communication.”
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Mrs Manson said in mid-January the council would undertake two days of workshops to discuss ways of enabling staff and councillors to find ways of working better, more effectively and more efficiently with each other and the communities they serve.
She said: “We have fantastic, committed, talented staff and the same in our communities. They want to be empowered to find local solutions to local problems and we know the public now has a much better understanding of the financial constraints the council is under.”
Mrs Manson was joined by council leader Margaret Davidson and depute leader Alasdair Christie who held their hands up on behalf of the council to previous divisive mistakes made during budget-setting.
Mrs Davidson said the new culture of communication and listening would ensure that long-running public rows like those over toilet closures and car parking charges would not happen again.
“That’s not to say we won’t close toilets or impose charges, but we will make sure that everyone is fully consulted and listened to, and understand our actions,” she said.
“We’ve said the word ‘localism’ lots and lots, and it doesn’t just happen because you say it. Our workshops in January will work out how we change things to support all those communities really wanting to work with us.”
Mr Christie said in a recent meeting of around 60 community councils in Inverness, the message was clear.
He said: “They said we want to do things in a different way, let’s explore everything, not rule anything in or out. Let’s look at the problem and who’s best placed to sort it.
“It could be the council but a lots of times it’s the communities, so they will be the leaders and we will be the supporters.”