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Is it possible to renew democracy and rebuild the economy without public consultation?

The Labour Party produced a hefty report this week covering regional devolution. Here’s a taster…

….the British people are the most important stakeholders in the conversation about the future of our country, and we believe these recommendations should form the start of a conversation about a New Britain and require public consultation and further development.

Recommendation 40. We recommend that the necessary consultation and preparatory work should begin now, and this should include a ground-up conversation with the people of Britain.

New Britain: Renewing our Democracy and Rebuilding our Economy

Report of the Commission on the UK’s Future: The Labour Party

Yes, it’s the final recommendation of 40, but we believe it’s the most important for several reasons.

It is based on the notion that renewing our democracy and rebuilding our economy must be supported by the people of Britain evidenced through public consultation.

Furthermore, it suggests that this consultation should start now, before any general election and potential transfer of power.

Whilst New Britain lacks the detail as to how this public consultation should take place, this presents an opportunity to influence thinking on large scale deliberation. The Institute has considered these methodologies before and would encourage the Labour Party to consider our findings.

We also have a strong interest in regional devolution, one of the key areas in the report, and we continue to advise several lead authorities as they consider and plan for public consultation. Examples of this can be found here and here.

The Institute does however, share many of the concerns highlighted during the Institute for Government’s recent webinar discussing the tools local areas need to boost regional growth. Capability and capacity are essential in order to deliver meaningful public consultation to support regional devolution.

To support our wider network on these issues, the Institute will host a series of regional devolution webinars in early 2023, collaborating with consultation and engagement professionals from local authorities and other membership bodies in the process.

We believe that the intentions in New Britain dramatically increase the scope and pace of change for local devolution:

Recommendation 6. Towns and cities across England should be given new powers to drive growth and champion their areas.


Recommendation 7. There should be “double devolution” that pushes power closer to people – giving them and their community the right to have more of a say on the issues that affect them, the services they use and the places they live.

Whilst there will pressure for a public consultation or even referendum in each town to mandate leaders to proceed with devolution, this is not sustainable. Double devolution may offer a solution in the form of innovative processes, involving people in making decisions on policies that will affect them. Again, the Institute has reviewed large scale deliberative processes including citizen panels/juries here and would recommend these are considered.

Finally, Recommendation 5 received little recognition in the report’s press coverage:

Recommendation 5. There should be new, constitutionally protected social rights – like the right to health care for all based on need, not ability to pay – that reflect the current shared understanding of the minimum standards and public services that a British citizen should be guaranteed.

There was a public consultation on the NHS constitution, and we would expect to see a similar approach to any social care rights constitution.

Book a call with a member of our team today for advice on your authority’s public consultation on devolution, or call our office on 01767 318350.

About the Author

Andy has held Assistant Director level posts in Public Health and Public Engagement in the North West of England and is an experienced change management specialist.

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