Cash for Consultees? – Is it justified to pay people to take part in consultations?
One of the legacies of the 1990’s was revulsion with so-called sleaze and a raft of anti-corruption machinery such as the Nolan Rules. As a result, those who become involved in public life, or who hold public office, are today conscious of the need to be whiter-than-white and to account for every penny which could be construed as tending to procure a sympathetic hearing for themselves or for causes they support.
This puritanical zeal is reflected in a widespread reluctance by stakeholders and their organisations to become involved in any process that is tainted by funding that could be seen as influencing what they say or what they do. The voluntary sector is particularly alive to this danger, but this scepticism extends far and wide, and has real implications for those who manage consultations.
So, if a mobile telephone Company pays local residents for their time to attend a Focus Group on proposals for a new transmitter mast, will opponents of the scheme cry foul and claim that participants in such an exercise are more likely to say Yes? Even if the sums involved are modest, and extremely unlikely to influence anyone, is this a case where the perception is more important than reality, and where objectivity (rather like justice) has to be seen to be done?