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How will the cost-of-living crisis affect consultation and what can we do about it?

We’re all noticing it, the tension in our wallets, as the price of fuel, food and energy skyrockets. It’ll impact all across society, with some suffering more than others, and without additional support from Government (we’ll see what the new PM can come up with!) things are going to get a whole lot tighter for most people. It’s an interesting example of how geopolitical issues can cascade, join together and form a torrent of troubles flowing down from the world of high politics and economics to individual citizens.

During our Perfect Blend coffee and chat session this morning, looking at traditional methods in the post-covid world, one of our participants noted that one of the things she had seen was the value in hybrid and digital methods in reaching out to seldom heard groups, and specifically mentioned that one of the traditional blocks to consultation participation has been economic, with less well-off groups often struggling to participate as fully in consultations.

Traditionally this might have taken the form of people struggling to come to major consultation events, or not being able to afford to take the time necessary to fill out questionnaires or surveys. In the more digital world we have moved into, this has found new form in direct access to technology or the digital skills gap. Overcoming this is one of the big challenges in ensuring we reach all the people we need to.

The conversation got us thinking about potential impacts of the cost-of-living crisis on consultation. An immediate impact might be the exacerbation of the pre-existing issues inherent in all the methods we use to reach out to people. Increasing fuel prices mean that people will be less able to come to us (even before we consider the winter coronavirus surge), energy considerations might mean that people are less likely to boot up their computers just to respond to a consultation, and the challenges of coping with day-to-day living costs means that responding to consultations is likely to slip down people’s agendas as a priority.

The challenges are unlikely to just be from the stakeholder side too- public authorities, already tightly squeezed by ever-shrinking budgets, may well face the prospect of further cuts which might impact on their ability to deliver both public services and the consultation and engagement exercises needed to deliver such changes. It will become ever more important for consultation and engagement to be done right to avoid the risk of expensive and unnecessary legal challenges.

It sounds like a lot of doom and gloom, but the consultation and engagement community Is a resilient one, and as we’ve seen over the last few years, when we have challenges, no matter how big, we always rise to meet them. Instead of expecting people to come to us, we can go to them. We can apply the lessons of the pandemic to the new situation and help those who need help to respond.

We’re still in the fairly early phases of the cost-of-living crisis, and things may well get worse. This is the perfect time to start considering what you might need to do to ensure that you’re still consulting at optimum efficiency and with all the people you need to be. What measures might you need to put in place and how should you approach the challenges ahead? Naturally, we’re with you along the way and we’ll continue working on it behind the scenes, so that we’re in the best place possible to answer questions on the subject. Let us know your thoughts, and what would be useful for you and your organisation!

About the Author

Stephen serves as the Institute’s Legal and Parliamentary Officer. Before joining the Institute Stephen studied Law at Bangor University and pursued a Masters’ degree in Aviation and Space Law at McGill University in Montreal. After this, he returned to London and was called to the bar in 2016 at the Honorable Society of Gray’s Inn, before deciding not to go into practice and move towards public policy work instead. Within the Institute, Stephen provides legal, political and policy analysis of UK and global current affairs of interest to consultors and consultees.

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