Friday, 15 May 2009

Public Consultations To Be More Accessible, Apparently


Lord Norton, posting on the House of Lords blog, reckons he has helped solve the problem of rigged propaganda posing as democratic process the mistrust of public consultations.

The minister responding was Lord Davies of Abersoch, from the Department for Business Enterprise & Regulatory Reform. He defended what the Government had done so far in respect of consultations, but he did deliver one notable piece of good news. By the end of this year, it will be possible to find on one site a list of all government consultations being undertaken and that material will be available in machine-readable form.

Lord Norton describes this as a "major step forward". If he means that hiding public consultations in a less secret place than where they were before is better, I can agree, but it couldn't be classed as major IMO.

To be fair to the esteemed peer, at least he is tackling the issue. Public consultations, which are punted out to just about every state-funded quango and single-issue lobby group, but not the public unless they possess a gargantuan Google magnifying glass, are a tool that Labour have found to be very useful in their successful campaign to exclude the entire electorate from decision-making.

It's a step, but not a major one. Even if this collating web-site does appear this year (might be worth scheduling a 'Where is it?' post for 00:01 on 1/1/2010), where are the proposals for consulting with the non-netted up, or even those who are online but go no further than Facebook? Is there to be £millions spent advertising it? I sincerely doubt it. And will convenient e-cards still be set up on government-funded satellite sites to harvest 'correct' responses, as is virulently prevalent now?

Unless the public, and the public alone (not stakeholders), are consulted, it appears to be more spin and more minimal consultation of those who actually have to live by changes in legislation.

Let's see how this move will work with some recent examples of the thousands of dodgy consultations over which Labour has presided since 1997:

1) On hiding of tobacco displays. If state-funded organisations aren't barred from taking part.

Yet only a handful of those 96,000 respondents came from individuals submitting their personal views. Almost 70,000 came from those collected by pressure groups entirely funded by the Department for Health.

Not only that but also ...

For some reason the views of 25,000 shopkeepers just seem to have been air-brushed out of the consultation report. We are not listed as one of the respondents although our response was submitted by email and also sent by post, so we can be certain it was received. For some reason the views of 25,000 shopkeepers just seem to have been air-brushed out of the consultation report

So Lord Norton's trumpeted improvement would have made no difference to that consultation. Because simply giving consultations a centralised online presence doesn't pull up any trees if quangos are still invited using public money, and valid objections are ignored.

2) Likewise the consultation (or lack thereof) on anti-photographer laws.

What is remarkable is that Jacqui Smith has seemingly failed to consult those with expertise over this issue. The Royal Photographic Society - established in 1853 - ought to have been at the top of the list of organisations consulted of how the law would work in practice. Yet the society, which has a Royal Charter, tells me that it has unsuccessfully been trying to meet Miss Smith over the past year, despite the encouragement and help of a backbench Labour MP.

What guarantee is there that their views will have been taken into account under the new proposals? There may well be a web-site, but as the corner shops found, that still isn't a guarantee that those submitting will be listened to.

3) And likewise again, the consultation on councils being asked to name senior staff and provide a full breakdown of their salary, pensions and rewards.

The civil servant's letter asks specifically of councils that "you could ensure that copies of this letter are shared with officers / employees within your organisation who may have an interest in the proposals (i.e. have details about their remuneration package published).

The new web-site will have little or no impact if those with a vested interest are alerted, whereas the public (only those with broadband and an enquiring mind, at that) have to find it for themselves.

4) State-funded lobby groups will always be listened to, of course. Even if they bastardise their own surveys, replying to skewed documents riddled with lies.

5) And if all that fails, some bent Lord could always ignore even the most vehement objections by side-stepping the consultation completely, and reporting fake charity untruths to Westminster, without challenge.

Merely providing a central hub for consultations is pretty irrelevant unless the public is afforded more creedence in their responses than those in the government's pay. Moreover, the concession apparently gained by Lord Norton doesn't tackle the issue of responses which are ignored, nor does it negate sabotage of the results presented to legislators, as shamefully illustrated last week by Lord Darzi.

Ironically, and despite his best intentions, it could be that Lord Norton has been the latest stooge to have fallen for Labour's pretence of welcoming opposing views, only to fob off such concerns with well-practiced misdirection.




1 comment:

Womble On Tour said...

These guys tend to subscribe to the "Yes Minister School of Consultancy", whose mantra ids "Don't hold a public consultation unless you know in advance what the outcome is going to be". I'm afaid we could contribute all we like, but invariably they know what they're going to do before they consult anyone anyway.