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Shaping Your Place

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I've wasted far too much time lately worrying about a web site which Cambridgeshire County Council is imposing on us called ShapeYourPlace1 which aims to be a "one stop shop" both for reporting issues within our community and for posting local news and events.

I have serious concerns about ShapeYourPlace and its potential impact on the village web site and the the parish council web site and have had for some time and I'm not alone in being concerned. I've been discussing it with the webmaster of the Impington and Histon web site and he shares my concerns.

The problem is that ShapeYourPlace dilutes and hence undermines the work that we have all been doing for a very long time now2.

Rather than providing a one stop shop it actually further muddies the waters as to where villagers should go if they want to raise issues: do they come to the parish council, do they contact the district council or the county, or do they use the excellent FixMyStreet web site? As for news and events do they put stories into our village newsletter Village View or Milton News or ask the parish clerk to post them to the parish council web site or do they post them to ShapeYourPlace? And if they do choose ShapeYourPlace will ShapeYourPlace share the content with the rest of us (as we three do now)?

My concern is that by adding yet another layer they're damaging what we already have by imposing an expensive "one size fits all" solution rather than relying on local, and largely voluntary, efforts.

So much for David Cameron's much vaunted "Big Society".

I'm also concerned about sustainability. A Freedom on Information request revealed (Adobe PDF, 57KB) that the county council have the full time equivalent(FTE) of 3.6 people working on ShapeYourPlace. That's a lot of money, allowing for NI and Local Government pension contributions we estimate it's at least £100,000 per annum.

The county council are under enormous pressures at the moment to find further savings. How long will ShapeYourPlace last? Especially as it does duplicated existing structures in areas like Milton.

So if we support ShapeYourPlace by advertising it in places like Milton News it will damage what we already have but, when it folds as I suspect it will, who's going to pick up the pieces?


Update 14/11/15

The present government's plans to cripple the Freedom on Information Act reminded me of this blog post so here's an update of what happened afterwards.

Milton Parish Council (among others) was being asked by the county council to encourage villagers to use ShapeYourPlace. I was able to use the information we'd gained from the FoI request to provide compelling evidence to the parish council that ShapeYourPlace wasn't sustainable. As a result, rather than rolling over and doing what that county council were asking they started asking the same questions we had been.

I'm not sure if they ever got a reply but despite the county's efforts (they even had a stall at an event in the village, manned by paid employees, oh how I wish we had those kind of resources) it never took off locally.

By this spring the county was desperate to make more savings and it was announced that ShapeYourPlace would close in March 2015. A news article at the time said that the county council estimated the closure would save it £180,000 per annum so either we'd underestimated the cost of a FTE or the cost of the site had gone up!

So in summary then FoI helped us show that this site was likely to be unsustainable, which would have been difficult to do otherwise (people do like real figures).

  1. I've not going to link to it as I don't want to give it any help with its page rankings but if you Google for it you should find it easily enough.
  2. For example it's Milton News' 15th birthday this year and milton-chat is of a similar age.

Tags: local politics, Milton, national politics, websites Written 08/08/13

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