Thursday, 18 March 2010

"Consulting"

The principle of consulting with people before adopting a particular proposal or course of action sounds like one of those 'good' things to do. So good that it's become a statutory requirement in all sorts of circumstances, and a requirement, at that, which causes delay and cost before implementing any proposal.

Now, if the consultation is genuine, then there's a reasonable argument that allowing time for comment and input before making a final decision makes it a reasonable cost to pay in a democracy. Far too often, however, 'consultation' has become a meaningless process during which documents are published and people respond before the consulting body carries on and does exactly what it was planning to do in the first place - usually claiming an increased validity as a result of the 'consultation'.

It can also help to disguise where and how decisions are being taken.

I've mentioned previously that two scrutiny committees in Carmarthenshire rejected a proposal to close four care homes. The council's response was to argue that the committees did no such thing; they merely rejected a proposal to go out to 'consultation' on the plans. Technically, of course, they're right. But had they proposed going out to consultation on a range of possible options, then I'm pretty certain that they would not have lost the vote in the way that they did.

It was one of those examples where there was only one option on the table, and after the consultation, the council's Executive Board would have simply rubber-stamped and then implemented its decision. It's a sad state of affairs when the only stage at which councillors could put a stop to a bad proposal was when they were asked to approve it going out for consultation. It underlines the powerlessness of the average councillor under the Executive Board system.

It's not uncommon though. Most of the 'consultations' launched by county councils and the Assembly Government seem to be of the same nature - a process which has to be gone through but which will not make any difference to the outcome. I'm not sure that I'd want to argue that the 'consultation' phase should be abandoned; but unless it is meaningful, it really does look as though it adds cost for no real benefit in most cases.

1 comment:

Cegog said...

I completely agree. I don't bother responding to consultation documents as the pre-consultation stage is far more important. Meeting with civil servants and politicians before hand is far more important, before decissions have been made. This is terribly time consuming and depends on contacts within different departments.

Consultation with the business community is particulary poor, with the proposed single use carrier bag levi being a particulary bad example. Carwyn Jones seems to want to scrap the Business Partnership Council, which would make things worse!

Glad you posted this as I completely agree!