More scrutiny of Government Consultation responses – now from ITV Cymru/Wales

Six weeks ago, we congratulated Peter Morgan Bentley and his team at The Times for having championed the cause of Government consultations and undertaking research into the failures to respond.

Today, the Institute re-publishes an article by Andrian Masters of ITV Cymru/Wales who has done a similar exercise for Welsh Government consultations – and found it also to be equally culpable. His analysis of the official web pages found 16 consultations ‘awaiting outcome’ despite being completed more than a year ago.

It prompts the question of why Governments get away with such poor practice.

So here are a few thoughts.

  1. There ARE ‘wicked issues’ where obtaining stakeholder views is the easy part of the policy-making process. Rushing your fences on such matters will not help and can be a recipe for disastrous decisions. Speed is often the enemy of good governance, but Ministers and civil servants need reminding that if consultees have taken time and trouble to contribute their views, it is only common courtesy to go back to them, acknowledge their efforts and keep them informed of progress.

 

  1. With such difficult issues, the process of consultation should ideally be the start (or just a stage) in a longer-term dialogue with key stakeholders. If significant comments have been received, it is far better for decision-makers to engage openly and continue discussions – building on views expressed in the consultation. However, if this is the approach, there is the same obligation to explain what’s happening and be transparent. In effect – ‘We are continuing talking to XYZ organisations, and wish to thank the rest of you in the meantime.’

 

  1. Consultees often lack the confidence or persistence to protest if their consultation responses do not lead to prompt feedback. Maybe if they were less willing to tolerate delays and procrastination, Ministers and departments would raise their game. As things stand, we suspect that many representative groups rely on their influence for maintaining good relations with Government, and are reluctant to kick over the traces – no matter how dilatory the follow-up to consultations may be. However, maybe they SHOULD make more fuss and harass those in charge of stalled decisions.

 

It can only be helpful if political journalists start looking into some of the more spectacular cases of feedback failure. The Institute will support their efforts and help them clean up what is un unacceptable failure of the process in too many cases.

About the Author

Rhion Jones is considered a leading authority on Public Engagement and Consultation. A founding Director of the Consultation Institute, he is co-author of “The Art of Consultation” – still the only major book on public consultation, and has delivered over 300 training courses and Masterclasses. He is a prolific writer on the subject, having written over 300 different Topic papers and over 20 full Briefing Papers for the Institute. Since 2003 over 12,000 person-days of training based on courses he invented have been delivered. Rhion is in demand as an entertaining Keynote Speaker and Special Adviser, particularly on the Law of Consultation, and its implications for Government and the NHS.

Read more about Rhion

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