Hackney cab ‘vanity project’ comes under fire

The black cab which had been 'modified' by the council for back seat filming

The black cab which had been 'modified' by the council for back seat filming - Credit: Archant

Hackney Council has come under fire for buying a black cab to film residents sitting in the back and sharing their ‘stories and thoughts’ about the borough as part of a huge consultation.

The council has posted A4 card questionnaire leaflets with a stamped return envelope through the letterbox of every single household and business in the borough for the ‘Hackney: A Place for Everyone’ project, which is billed as the council’s ‘biggest-ever discussion about the borough’.

‘Key questions’ include how the borough has changed over the past decade and how it can be improved.

But so the council can “reach out to even more people”, they have specially-modified a black cab with the logo ‘I Love Hackney’, and have staff touring the borough with it, while others are being posted at more than 40 locations, including markets, train stations, festivals, health services and cultural events to target ‘hard to reach’ residents and ‘those who do not have the ability to fill in the questionnaire’.

So far out of Hackney’s estimated 246,300 population, 2,000 people have responded, which the council claims shows the “appetite” people have for the debate.

But Lib Dem Cllr Abraham Jacobson blasted the consultation as a “vanity project” and a “total waste of money”.

“Call it what you want but it’s a gimmick, you can ask people what they think without a taxi driving around the streets,” he said.

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“The people who really matter don’t want to be filmed when they are talking about Hackney - if they are renting a Hackney Homes property and they are complaining they might be fearful they could be discriminated against.

“Perhaps it would have been better for them to have a consultation when they decided to fine homeless people, harassing the poor, weak and vulnerable,” he said referring to the council’s plans to introduce a public space protection order, which was dropped in June following widespread criticism.

Jonathan Isaby, chief executive of the Taxpayer’s Alliance, added: “Consultations like this always run the risk of looking like a PR exercise, and though the council claims the costs are covered by external work, it’s still money that could be spent on more immediately pressing frontline needs.

“It’s highly likely that this grand consultation will reveal that residents want their streets clean, their rubbish collected, the vulnerable looked after, and the basic functions of government fulfilled – and that doesn’t really need to cost £20,000.”

A council spokesman said the aim of the consultation is to “shape the council’s actions and priorities over the coming years, when resources will become scarcer.”

She said the black cab cost £7,000 and the entire consultation no more than £20,000, with funding coming from income generated by its communications and consultation team carrying out work for other organisations.

Holding the consultation was “a corporate decision on the back of the council’s corporate plan”.

She added: “Traditionally, those people most likely to be excluded or negatively affected, are those least likely to contact us, which is why we are taking an approach that allows us to reach them.

“The council wants to make sure that local people can benefit from Hackney’s economic growth, and that we continue to have cohesive communities.”