The Week in Parliament
The big news this week was the Chancellor’s Spring Statement, but so much has already been written on that that we didn’t think we needed to add any more, except perhaps the piteous wailing of people looking at prices going up. That may have been the headline-grabber, but we wouldn’t be drawn by such things alone, so what else has been happening?
We’re actually going to look at goings-on in one of Westminster’s committee rooms this week, rather than in either of the chambers. In particular, at goings on in the transport committee, where the Chief Executive of P&O Ferries was answering questions from irate MPs on the impromptu and (he freely admitted) unlawful sacking of 800 staff. Whilst under questioning, Mr Hebblethwaite admitted to breaking the law, in particular the requirement to consult workers before making them redundant.
We focus almost entirely on public consultations, not private ones such as this, but it does raise an interesting question. Should we also look more at these too? Sure the rules may be slightly different, but they are for healthcare, transport and planning as well, so it’s not that different. The basic principles of consultation should surely still apply? A consultation that is not genuine is not a good consultation whether it’s done by a Government department, a local authority, or a private corporation.
Perhaps the key difference is that these sort of consultations are not so much a matter of public record. They affect only a limited group of specific people (though you might argue the same of the closure of a day centre or something similar). The details are rarely published outside the relevant individuals and generally are undertaken under something of a shroud of confidentiality. In and of itself that gets us wondering about how well they’re done.
So, that’s the big question- should we be looking more at these? Your thoughts on a postcard to the usual address.
Ferries were also on the agenda in Scotland this week, both P&O and the continuing debate on ferry service to island communities. For fear of making you seasick however, we’re going to look at a different issue that arose during First Minister’s Questions, about responses to consultations around traumatic issues. In this case, this was the historical forced adoption consultation currently being undertaken.
The question however is a broader one, how should we as consultors be helping people to complete consultations that might involve traumatic or upsetting experiences from their lives? Often we do ask questions that can touch on these issues, and when we do, people with lived experience are the core of the people we need to reach and communicate with.
We talk a lot about reaching the seldom heard and helping people to respond to our consultations in the best ways, so should we be thinking more about how we can encourage and support those who have that lived experience to respond. It’s not an easy one, but we might see if we can arrange some sort of discussion on the subject.
In Wales this week, the exciting sound of new tax regulations being presented before Senedd. Wait, come back! The Council Tax (Long-term Empty Dwellings and Dwellings Occupied Periodically) (Wales) Regulations 2022, which for the sake of my keyboard I will not be typing out every time, form a key part of the Welsh Government’s plan to tackle the housing and inaffordability crisis in Wales. After a consultation last year, they extend discretionary powers for local authorities in Wales to levy a 300% premium on council tax on second homes and long-term empty properties.
With a country as beautiful as Wales (and I’m not just saying that because I went to university there/would be in big trouble with our Founder Director), second homes and buy-to-let holiday homes has always been a big issue, in the same way as it has been for some local authorities in England. It cuts down housing supply, and artificially increases prices so that young people and those seeking homes find them even further out of their grasp. The Regulations, require that councils looking to introduce the new premiums consult with local people and home owners before their introduction, and we’ll be keeping an eye out for such consultations- there’s likely to be a flurry of them. It’ll be interesting to see how well the scheme works, and whether we might see increasing pressure to introduce similar things elsewhere.