The Cabinet Office launched a consultation on consultation a couple of weeks ago and I’ve finally made it through the document – Effective Consultation: asking the right questions, asking the right, people, listening to the answers.

My main feeling is that it really lacks ambition and I suspect this reflects the broad nature of consultation that it needs to cover.  In 33 pages the document focuses on the first criteria of the current consultation code which is to recommend consultations last 12 weeks.

It asks 12 questions for which they are looking answers and sets out three options for consideration. 

Option One:   Written Consultation plus one other method
Option Two:    A code of practice with a fast track procedure
Option Three:   A principles based approach

Astonishingly in the pros and cons for Option Three they reckon a "possible con" is that a "change of culture required across Government".  Surely if they recognise (like the High Court did) that if consultation is not working then a change of culture is required.  Or do they truly believe that the code is holding the Government back rather than the lack of desire to consult.

It isn’t exactly a new problem.  Alan Clark bemoaned the need for consultation with Trade Unions whilst at the Department for Employment.  We hear tales of clients being asked to find young people to give feedback on campaigns in the week before they go live (so what happens if the young people find it doesn’t work?).  Ministers talk of consultation on national radio as a selling exercise.

Unless the culture changes so that civil servants and ministers understand and believe that effective consultation will lead to better decision making then the bare minimum will continue to be done.

The range of consultations that Government needs to perform is too broad for a six point code of practice.  It should be based on principles that help deliver a change of culture.

I’m about to Have my Say online and I hope you’ll do the same.

Categories: Democracy


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