Government move on consultations 'a backward step', says consultant

Chris Whitehouse of the Whitehouse Consultancy says the decision to stop them from lasting 12 weeks automatically should 'send shivers down the spine'

Chris Whitehouse
Chris Whitehouse

A decision by the government to abandon consultations that are automatically 12 weeks long has been attacked by a senior charity lobbyist as a backward step.

Chris Whitehouse, managing director of the Whitehouse Consultancy, whose clients include speech and language charities the Communication Trust and I Can, criticised the move, arguing that reduced consultation times would "hamstring" the ability of charities to contribute to policy development.

He said that the decision to announce the change on the same day that members of parliament rose for summer recess was "extraordinarily cynical".

Whitehouse said: "Make no mistake, this is a real step backwards and the government’s decision to impose these new rules unilaterally and without consultation should send a shiver down the spine of anyone with an interest in public policy."

The announcement that government consultations should no longer automatically last 12 weeks came on 17 July in a written ministerial statement by the Cabinet Office’s policy minister, Oliver Letwin.

It said that in future government departments would follow a range of timescales for consultation, rather than "defaulting to a 12-week period", particularly where extensive engagement had already taken place. The change would make consultations more proportionate, the government said.

The new guidance on consultations will come into effect in September and will replace the code of practice on consultation published in 2008.

Whitehouse said: "In place of the commitment to 12-week consultations, what we’ll be left with is an incredibly arbitrary system that will result in too little time being given to consultations on key policies and will severely limit the opportunities charities have to engage in public policy development and comment on the decisions that will most affect them."

The proposed consultation period change has received a mixed response from the voluntary sector. Compact Voice, the the sector body for the Compact, said the statement provided clarity about how government departments would consult, but Navca, the local infrastructure umbrella body, warned that the change should not serve as an excuse for "dodging the principles of the Compact".

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