HBC spend £6,600 with Market Research agency to ‘explore Havant’s future’

Regular readers will be aware that Havant Civic Society, along with almost a dozen other local Havant Borough residents’ groups, have been trying with limited success to engage with the HBC Regeneration Team for the past four years. We’ve put in a great deal of time and effort over that period, reviewing and critiquing the Regeneration team’s documents and presentations and making constructive recommendations, only to have them summarily ignored.

Faced with the need to provide evidence to support their latest bid for central government ‘Levelling Up’ funding, the deadline for which was Wednesday 6th July, the HBC Regeneration team appear to have chosen the easy way out – to pay a market research agency to come up with some data.

Some of you might have noticed the ‘News Release’ shown below. It never made it as far as the Council website, but was emailed the day before the survey to those who had opted-in to receipt of such notifications.

Eagle-eyed visitors to the town centre during shopping hours might have spotted one of the survey reps, on the lookout for passing members of the public who could ‘make a genuine contribution to the future of the borough‘.

At the recent Full Council meeting, the Council Lead for ‘Levelling Up’ faced some robust questioning from other local councillors:

  • Why hadn’t he used a broader, more inclusive approach to solicit responses from those not able to visit during the survey period?
  • Why hadn’t he simply asked his fellow councillors to stand in the town centre and ask the public themselves?
  • Why hadn’t the local higher education establishments been invited to undertake the work?

We’re not sure whether they were satisfied with his response:

“Clearly one of the best ways of understanding how people use the town centre is to talk to people who are actually in there using it, so perhaps rather than just asking people to hypothetically pontificate on Facebook on online surveys about how they think the town centre should develop, this is so we can actually show people images and other information and get their reaction to it.”

Putting an interactive survey up on the Council website would have seemed appropriate use of HBC’s own communications team and using local community organisations to get the message out, such as the Havant Huddle Facebook community, which alone has almost 6,000 members, would have brought speedy attention and a better response rate at no cost.

With family visiting that week, we were frequently in and around the town but failed to spot any of the Lake Research agents. I gave up and asked Cllr. Pike where we might actually find one and a couple of days later, armed with his response, tracked one down to a bench near the escalator in the Meridian Centre. We later found another at a bench on the station approach from Market Parade.

As far as we could ascertain, there were a total of five agency temps distributed across the town centre, each tasked with collecting just 20 responses a day and thus generating a total of just over 1000 responses. They seemed absent on the Sunday which we though rather strange given that West Street on a Sunday morning is usually buzzing with churchgoers as well as other residents who lack the opportunity to visit the town centre on a weekday.

Restricting the survey days and hours would have excluded a statistically significant percentage of the town centre user community, undermining the value of the data collected which was already further diluted by the six days around the national rail strikes. Refusal to publish the content of the questionnaire for wider circulation and completion also seemed misguided. If that was a condition imposed by Lake Research, then it further questions the value for money of their £6,594 invoice since the simplistic ‘off-the-shelf’ questions had none of the bespoke sophistication suggested at the council meeting.

The questionnaire

For those expecting to be able to ‘give their reaction to the images and other information‘ as promised by Cllr. Pike, the real questionnaire came as something of a disappointment. The questions, presented on a touchscreen tablet, were simply a set of multiple choice questions which looked like a standard, off-the-shelf town centre shopping survey with no ‘images or other information’ displayed. Setting aside the standard demographic, identity and privacy questions, there were only a few basic questions, most of which related to the contents of the Meridian Centre with a single question concerning the station footbridge, should that have been the respondent’s ‘route to town’.

While an online version of the survey would have raised the response rate and broadened the community profile, it’s important to note that a face-to-face survey is the only way of covering that important section of the community who have no access to online devices and methods. In any event, the survey would have missed those who currently do not use the town centre which surely forms another important target group?

Given the current reorganisation changes in the HBC Regeneration team, wouldn’t it be a good idea if the Council included representatives of the residents’ groups as part of their ‘Insight Team’? A far more useful questionnaire could have been designed by that team and as the Councillors suggested, we could all have chipped in and manned the clipboards!

Refreshing the Regeneration team

Click the image for a 2021 ‘Levelling’ Up fund ‘bid supporting document

We are expecting a new Regeneration Lead to be announced as part of the ongoing, post-split HBC reorganisation, the third occupant of that role in four years. The post was advertised by the Council last month as one reporting directly to the Chief Exec, currently Kim Sawyer albeit in an interim role. Whether this indicates that it is a more lofty role than before is unclear. More likely, it would suggest that the need to dramatically cut costs following the split from East Hants District Council (HSDC) might result in a flatter, leaner management structure. The previous Regeneration Lead, Clare Chester, having completed her contributions to the ‘Levelling Up’ Fund bid submitted yesterday, now moves back to EHDC as ‘Director of Regeneration & Prosperity’.

We wish Clare well in her new role, and we wish the latest HBC bid for Levelling Up funding better success than last year’s effort.