Pushing for better consultations
Is it time for key stakeholders to become more assertive and demand better consultations?
Have public consultations got better over the last ten years? It’s a good question, because although some of us close to the profession would claim significant advances, many others would vociferously deny it. They might point to regular abuses and a continuing scepticism that public decision-makers aren’t good at listening. A balanced compromise view might be that such improvements, as we have seen, are masked by ever-increasing expectations from a more engaged and combative general public. This is also true outside the UK.
If we accept that there have been improvements in consultation process – what exactly has caused it? Ten years ago, Central Government kept publishing Guidance and tried hard to instil better standards – so could claim some credit. That seems now to have tailed off. The Courts have had a bigger influence, so the rise in judicial interventions has made many consultors anxious to minimise the risk of judicial review. And I suppose the Institute’s modest role in the education and training of practitioners will also have helped.
Arguably, however, the most powerful single stimulus to best practice potentially comes from another source. One that is yet to have the impact it should. Stakeholders themselves. Yes, we are talking about ‘Consultee power’.