Social media is tosh, according to Milton Keynes councillor who prefers old fashioned ways of communicating

Cllr Norman Miles (centre) speaking in the council chamber
Cllr Norman Miles (centre) speaking in the council chamber

A senior councillor who steadfastly refuses to be on social media wants the council to continue to print thousands of letters to residents to consult with them on important issues.

Officers at Milton Keynes Council say the 112,292 pages of paper they’ve printed out since 2007 on the procedure is the equivalent of more than 10 pine trees, making the process environmentally unfriendly.

They have recommended that they should stop sending letters to residents whenever there is a licensing application within 50m of where people live because it is a waste of money.

Licensing officer Adam Ward told Wednesday's meeting of MK Council’s licensing committee that they favoured using social media, including Facebook and Twitter, to get the message out and encourage more people to respond.

“Social media is all tosh, I don’t do it,” said Cllr Norman Miles (Lab, Wolverton). “If people say nasty things about me I don’t know. I think that’s an important point. You don’t rely on Facebook alone, or Twitter alone.

“There is an old saying: “The price of democracy is eternal vigilance” and part of that is making sure that people know what’s going on.”

He called the recommendation “draconian” but said he accepts the need for the council to be as environmentally friendly and economic as possible, “but not at the expense of disadvantaging citizens who have a right to know what’s going on.”

The councillors were told that between 2017 and 2018 a total 28,073 letters were been sent out in respect to 597 applications at a yearly cost of just over £5,113. They also hand deliver in some cases to save the cost of stamps.

“Some applications, such as those in the Hub, result in 300 to 500 letters being produced due to the number of flats in the vicinity. Officers deliver these letters by hand to save substantive postage costs, but the delivery of the letters can take around two hours,” said the report to the committee.

But Cllr Paul Williams (Lab, Central MK) was the only councillor to speak in favour of scrapping letters.

He said: “We’re sending a lot of letters out but we’re not getting responses. We seem to be getting more letters returned as undeliverable than we are getting as responses.

“I think as councillors we have a responsibility to engage with our residents if a particular application is controversial. I don’t believe it’s a very effective use of officers’ time or an effective use of council resources.”

Committee chairman Cllr Mick Legg (Lab, Bletchley West) said there was a need to “find a way to get the best of both worlds”.

The committee agreed to receive a further report after speaking to the council’s own communications and customer service departments.

“Nobody wants a one per cent response rate but we also do not want to disenfranchise people,” said Cllr Legg.