Simon Heng on pointless committee meetings

As someone who is trying to represent service users’ views to the authorities, I’ve found myself involved in sitting on more committees than I care to count. I even chair some of them.

Now, I understand that we can’t make ­reckless decisions about social care and health – I don’t expect the huge machines that keep the systems running to suddenly change gear just because I think I’ve come up with a good idea. People’s care – quite possibly, ­people’s lives – are at stake; people’s jobs could be on the line.

Public money is also at stake, so anyone involved in making decisions about spending it has a duty to make the best use of it as possible.

But why do so many of these committees have to be so mind-numbingly boring? Why does this process take so long to arrive at any decisions? Once you’ve got through apologies, minutes of the previous meeting, matters arising and so on half the meeting has passed, all the biscuits have been eaten, and you might have just started on the reason the meeting was called in the first place.

The chances are that decisions won’t be made on the day, anyway: the committee has decided that it needs more information, or another committee needs to be consulted, and, to top it all, you need to leave time to arrange another meeting.

I used to be mildly frustrated by meetings of service users, who, in general, either don’t know or don’t care about meetings etiquette. Usually, they’ve come to a meeting because they have something they want to say, whether or not it’s up for discussion. Everyday concerns, expressed with real emotions of fear and anger, set the agenda. I usually feel that I’ve learned something, understood more, by being there.

Why am I writing this now? I’ve just attended a committee where the results (after two hours’ discussion) were that, first, our remit was too vague second, we needed more people to attend – on top of the 20 people around the table and finally, we needed to arrange more meetings



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