The Cabinet Office has issued a revised set of Consultation Principles that are intended to act as guidance for Government departments on carrying out consultations.
They are an updated version of the Principles published in 2012 (updated November 2013) which in turn replaced the 2008 Code of Consultation and have been amended in line with feedback received from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee.
Some points to note about the 2016 Principles include:
- Purpose of consultation – the Principles encourage departments to ask departmental lawyers whether there is a ‘legal duty to consult’ and not to consult ‘for the sake of it’.
- Length of consultations – the 2012 Principles suggested that shorter consultations than the previously accepted standard of 12 weeks should be considered by departments if appropriate, with a minimum length of two weeks suggested. However, following criticism from the Scrutiny Committee (and others) that a two-week consultation would be 'unworkable', the new principles have done away with a suggested duration altogether and now recommend that departments consult for a 'proportionate amount of time' taking into account legal advice and the nature and impact of the proposal.
- Response to consultation – the Government has taken into account the committee’s suggestion that the Principles should make it explicit that departments should always publish a timely government response to a consultation by suggesting that a response should be published within 12 weeks.
- Digital tools – the 2012 Principles recommended that departments use digital methods of consultation by default but have scaled back on this in the new principles by recommending that departments consider whether new digital tools are appropriate, as well as ‘open, collaborative approaches’.
The Principles set the expectations of how others, particularly the public, believe consultation should be conducted.
One simple, but key, point is therefore the very first Principle which says ‘Use plain English and avoid acronyms’!
Organisations will also be expected to follow similar principles, so whilst the guidelines are primarily focused on government departments, they can be applied to other bodies and organisations too.
The Principles are the starting point for consultations so NHS bodies' and local authorities' consultation procedures should reflect these latest guidelines.
With so many consultations happening at any one time, it’s important that there should be some clear principles and best practice guidelines behind them. This update is therefore a welcome step in providing a useful and practical checklist for departments and organisations planning to consult.
The full set of principles can be found on the Cabinet Office web page.