Consulting when your mind is made up

Confirming the policy?

This has been bothering me for a while now so I thought I’d share my general botherment with the readers of this blog. Two weeks ago Unison announced that they were taking the Government to court in an attempt to prevent the health White Paper which will break up Primary Care Trusts being implemented.

Now, this particular blogger is not immune to Unison’s arguments (and generally agrees with the points made here and here by her colleagues) and probably would prefer to leave the vital role of health commissioning in the hands of expert PCTs.

However, it’s the rationale for the court appearances that really irks. They are taking the Government to court because the Government did not consult sufficiently. There are two problems here:

Firstly, the Government, like them or not, did have a consultation; it was called a General Election and more MPs who back this policy won than those who do not. To complain to the judge that the big bad politicians won an election and then did what they said they were going to is quite frankly silly.

Secondly, this is yet another example of ‘consultation’ being chronically abused as a concept. Local Government has been increasingly asked to consult with local residents. There are legal duties to involve and engage and to allow residents to decide and numerous Government strategies supporting all kinds of consultation. Government green and white papers are always put out to consultation.

But rarely if ever are there real decisions at stake within these consultations. Increasingly we ‘consult’ when people have already made up their minds.

What if Unison win? The Government will announce a consultation and ask the public to input over a few small areas within the wider framework. The overall policy won’t change and the public’s faith in all consultation will continue to decline.

Here’s a novel idea: Politicians and local authorities; you shall not conduct any consultation where you have already made up your mind and where there is not a clear, relevant and interesting decision for residents to make.

Anything else shall merely be called ‘informing’ the public. It will stop stupid legal cases and hopefully give the public more confidence in consultation.

Explore posts in the same categories: Big P Politics, The future of Local Govt

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2 Comments on “Consulting when your mind is made up”

  1. localgov Says:

    Nail on the head. The amount of times I’ve been asked to consult on things when there was no way of it not being agreed is embarrassing; I’m thankfully now in a position where I can say no to these types of request.

    Informing is still a very valid and useful thing to do, and sits well on the ladder of participation. Research has showed people don’t always want to be engaged but want to feel they could if they did want to. Still, that’s probably a topic for another day…

  2. Croft Says:

    Yup, this is one of my bugbears too. And yes, a lot of the time it should be ‘informing’ rather than consulting.

    That said, we could even be radical and actually consult. And take opinions into account when deciding policy….but that might be a step too far!

    (seriously, if there are things we aren’t going to change, then we should be explicit and make clear what is up for grabs and why. Would give people more faith in the system rather than the ability to blame faceless bureaucrats for everything)

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