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Somewhere between engagement and consultation

The fudging of accountability.

2020 continues to throw up novel situations and dilemmas that have previously not troubled us. Who might have guessed that on the day that this Topic is written, Parliamentarians are discussing whether to vote for legislation that wilfully breaches an international treaty whilst the ink is still metaphorically dry. And UK residents are urged to report their neighbours to the police if they are gathering in groups of six or more – having taken the household size into account. And they are disregarding children if in Wales or Scotland. In a similar vein is the growing difficulty of disentangling accountability for successes and failures.

This is not a rant against politicians – more an observation about the complexity of policy-making and its implementation. Politics has always encouraged its practitioners to welcome the plaudits that come with success and be rather more reticent when things go wrong. For central government(s), the traditional code of honour whereby Ministers carried the can for mistakes committed by their department, has long since vanished. More recent is the practice of firing the top civil servants, but this has recently occurred to everyone’s visibility in the Home Office and at Education … and in other places more discreetly.

The issue is less about attributing blame, but understanding what happened. Who said what to whom, and when? Who took decisions? And upon what basis? Were they fully informed when they did so? Political journalists love speculating about such things and revel in the inconsistencies and contradictions revealed. So, when the balloon goes up on the latest U-turn, recriminations are inevitable.


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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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