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Should public bodies refuse to explain consultation proposals at a commercially-organised Roundtable event?

The Institute this week encountered a problem it had never seen before.

The Welsh Government was invited to attend an Institute Roundtable to explain its proposals for changing the arrangements for public and patient involvement with the NHS and social care. The event – which takes place in Cardiff on 6th September has been organised because the original public consultation, launched in July did not include any plans to hold any events at which controversial proposals for abolishing Community Health Councils could be discussed.

The Institute is not a charity and has to cover its costs which include venue costs, lunch, speaker fees and expenses etc so naturally, this is a fee-paying event.

What the Welsh Government suggests, however is that to attend such a third-party event would compromise the integrity of the consultation.

Now the Institute has probably run about 800 training courses on the integrity of a consultation during the last fourteen years, so we could claim it is something of a ‘special subject’ for us. But in all this time we have never seen any Guidance or policy paper suggesting that in a consultation, the consultor would refuse to attend and listen to stakeholders if they had paid to be at someone’s event. The Welsh Government has also suggested that it would be wrong for NHS Managers and other public bodies to attend anything that was chargeable.  It would mean that a lot of Conferences might be unable to discuss matters under consultation.

Now, consultation best practice is always evolving, and we need to be conscious of shifts in sentiment. We would like to hear therefore from any members or supporters who have views on this. In a well-prepared consultation, we would normally expect a range of events or other opportunities to be offered to consultees to express an opinion. But when no such provision is made, and when a third-party steps in to offer the chance to debate the issue (even on a commercial basis), should not the consultor be prepared to attend and listen to what it said?

 

What do you think?

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” (2009) and “The Politics of Consultation” (2018). He has delivered over 500 training courses and Masterclasses and is a prolific writer on the subject, having written over 350 different Topic papers and over 50 full Briefing Papers for the Institute. Since 2003 over 15,000 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 other Public Bodies. In 2017, he was awarded the ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’.

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