The Duty to Involve debate
Eric Pickles is all over the deregulation agenda at the moment.
His latest effort has been to re-write the Best Value guidance and in doing so also repeal the ‘Duty to Involve’ and the ‘Duty to Prepare a Sustainable Community Strategy’.
His rewriting involved reducing pages and pages of official ‘guidance’ and reduce it to just under 300 words. Indeed, the press release accompanying the announcement was twice as long!
The welovelocalgovernment team is a diverse one so in order to reflect this we set up a little late night e-mail debate between two of us.
Here is the outcome:
Let’s cut to the chase; the duty to involve was just like any other duty; ill-defined and misappropriated. It was, at the same time, used to justify activity that suited a councils own needs and applied to activities that had no business being called consultation just to say we had met the duty.
Nothing like a gentle warm up eh? I think the issue you might be having is simply looking at life AD (after duty) and how the duty was misused. For all the faults in application, the duty provided those of us who care about public involvement and engagement a powerful argument. We were able to go to senior managers and argue that they had to do a better job of engaging with the public because of the duty. I’ve lost count of the number of times the duty was referenced in senior level reports. Local Government can often be slow to do the right thing and a little kick from the centre can do wonders.
But isn’t that the problem Mr Pickles et al are trying to solve? If Local Government doesn’t stop being so dependant on the ‘central powers that be’ how are we ever going to develop powerful self confident local government that we need?
Putting your head in the utopian sand isn’t going to stop the fact that it did have an effect and was useful. Getting rid of it doesn’t seem to serve any real purpose.
Ok, I can accept that for some authorities it was useful. However, the duty does seem pretty anachronistic when applied to a local democracy. Are we not at a place now where services recognise that the best way to provide a decent service is to engage with the service users and where politicians realise that the best way to win elections and remain popular is to provide what the public actually want? The duty seems an almost pitiful response in light of these much greater challenges. Maybe, it should have become a duty to truly understand the communities we are meant to be serving?
Just because politicians and service managers should know better doesn’t necessarily mean they do. You’re right that the duty isn’t perfect but the presence of it helped nudge people in the right direction and ensure they were thinking about involving residents properly. Without it, where does the external pressure come from?
Hmmm, I sense it might be time to agree to disagree. Any thoughts on the death of the Sustainable Communities Strategy? Can we agree that the trees saved and hours no longer wasted on developing ten year strategies that were promptly ignored and rewritten in 18 months time is a good thing?
Come on, do you really want to have that debate at this hour? The SCSs were often badly used and didn’t do what they were meant to (and they wasted a LOT of paper) but encouraging different local providers to talk to each other was a really positive thing and brought about a positive shift in the way they worked together; not sure the strategies were the best way to do it but better than nothing right? That’s it; I’m out of here…
Does that count as surrender?
…. No response ….
And there we ended.
For further debating points you might want to check out, in the ‘we love the duty’ corner, Davy Jones and in the ‘not so sure about the duty’ corner, Tim Hughes. Tim has also gathered some bits and pieces on the debate together here. And please feel free to add your comments below.