Institute commentary on the Conservative Party manifesto
Earlier today the Conservative Party launched their election manifesto two days after Labour have done the same. According to the latest polls, the Tories are expected to win a clear majority in the House of Commons on 8th June. It is then important to read up on what their public consultation promises will be.
Local authorities might feel disenchanted to read that the Tories want to impose a duty on councils to consult when they wish to cut down street trees. You might wonder why this has made it into the manifesto but recent events in a Northern council has shown just how controversial this can be. Sheffield Council wanted to fell thousands of its trees but met fierce resistance from concerned residents. An independent report found that there was no “arbocultural” reason to remove some of the trees. We guess, however, that not a great deal of councils were anticipating this or are able to spare the already tight resources to run yet another consultation. The Conservatives, in their manifesto, state that this is a remedy to “take action against poor air quality in urban areas. “
Just like Labour, the Tories would also like to strengthen the corporate-governance of privately-owned businesses so boards not only take account of the interests of just shareholders but employees, suppliers and the wider community. Another commitment to consult is on the design of a United Kingdom Shared Prosperity Fund to replace current EU funding. The Tories promise to consult on this with the devolved administrations, local authorities, businesses and public bodies.
For those readers working in the NHS, the Conservatives will hold NHS England’s leaders to account for delivering their plans to improve patient care. If the current legislative landscape is either slowing implementation or preventing national or local accountability, a Tory Government will consult to make the “necessary changes.“ Does this possibility mean removing or watering down the current legal requirements for the NHS to consult on major service changes?
The word ‘consultation’ or ‘consult’ appears 8 times in the 2017 manifesto to only just 1 in the 2015 edition. The words “we will”, however, appears 544 times (Labour mentions it 269 times)! Can this be interpreted as a promise to consult? In recent years, one of the main legal developments has been the trend by claimants for judicial review to rely upon the doctrine of legitimate expectation, but it would be up to the Courts to decide whether a potential future Government has breached this doctrine. Ambiguous phrasing like this can be interpreted completely differently by different people.
At first glance it appears that Labour has committed itself to do more public consultations than the Tories but what we’ve learnt from the past is that Governments always end up doing more consultations than they expect.