Haringey Council has never really been big on engagement.

Why should it? The ruling group has a rather tasty built-in majority and, over the decades has weathered scandal, maladministration and poor financial control and still gets elected!

That is why so many people paid attention when Cllr Peray Ahmet, our new council leader, said in May 2021 that, “I want the lynchpin of my administration to be about co-production and co-design and being a more collaborative council… the way we engage and talk to our residents is a crucial component moving forward.”

Peray is absolutely right and I honestly believe that she really means what she says: I cannot remember being invited to so many consultations and engagement projects.

In my little bit of paradise, we are being asked about our CPZ and plans for public art for the town centre. We are working with an officer group to sort out the mess around Hornsey Library and have recently established a Friends group for the library.

Ham & High: David Winskill thinks Haringey Council should recognise the importance of communication skillsDavid Winskill thinks Haringey Council should recognise the importance of communication skills (Image: David Winskill)

Most of the officers we meet have a positive approach (apart from those with cods' eyes that seem to say, 'Please, let’s get this over with'). Unfortunately, few of them have an understanding of how collaboration happens and certainly can’t distinguish between consultation, engagement and (the dog’s wotsits) co-design.

There are a lot of moving parts in good engagement: timeliness and getting the right people and groups into the conversation; seeking out seldom heard voices; developing first class comms and transparency in sharing information; agreeing the process (including how a decision will be made); listening to views, alternative suggestions, answering questions honestly and recognising that community memory and experience are a priceless resource.

Likewise, residents should understand that they will not necessarily always get what they want.

Getting things right can lead to improved services and access and better service uptake – and fewer complaints!

Just as one wouldn’t expect officers to set budgets without financial training or allow a social worker to run child-protection without knowledge of the law and good practice, engagement mustn’t be treated as a fluffy exercise (probably involving lots of tea and biscuits) and left to amateurs.

To do this stuff properly means a well-trained, resourced and motivated senior officer group. The jeopardy of not getting it right is reputational damage and an even more disenfranchised and cynical resident group.

Engagement is a skill and is worth investing in.

David Winskill is a Crouch End resident and campaigner.