Sunday, 8 January 2012

When consultation is a farce

In my column in last week's Cornish Guardian, I wrote about the failings of governmental and council consultations. It was as follows:

What is consultation? What does it mean to consult?

Well, I have looked up “consult” in a couple of dictionaries for a clear definition. According to the experts it means to “have discussions with (someone), typically before undertaking a course of action” or to “discuss something with someone before you make a decision.”

Sadly, the whole concept of “consultation” has been undermined and devalued by successive governments, as well as councils and other bodies the length and breadth of the United Kingdom.

We are often asked our opinions on proposals, policies and documents. But time and time again, we are only being told what action a public body is planning to take, and any comments we make are inevitably discarded and ignored.

It seems to me that the powers-that-be have forgotten the bit about seeking views before decisions are made and that discussion is a two-way process.

Probably the worst example of this has been the government's recent consultation on solar panels and the feed-in tariff (FIT) paid to individuals and groups for the electricity generated by domestic-scale schemes.

The consultation ran from 31st October until 23rd December and one of the proposals was for the feed-in tariff to be reduced from 43p to 21p for each kWh. But the controversial cut in the tariff came into force from 12th December – two weeks prior to the closing date of the consultation exercise.

Is it any wonder that comments on the consultation have included:

· “This consultation is a hollow exercise with no intention of the feedback from the consultation making any difference.”

· “The consultation is a sham.”

· “The decision has already been made.”

· “Everyone thinks it’s a foregone conclusion.”

· “It’s just another cynical exercise in ‘consulting’ and then doing what’s already decided anyway.”

· “A waste of time.”

Whatever the merits of the proposed changes, I welcome the news that the High Court has overruled the government’s decision and that the Judge has described the decision of the Department for Energy and Climate Change as “legally flawed.”

It is about time that consultation does actually equate to consultation – and the views of ordinary people are listened to properly.


Pz01 said...

Sadly I can only agree, I have been to too many consultation that are in fact Presentations.

Curate Falconer said...

'Consultation', like 'reform', is about to lose its meaning.