Council in court over alleged consultation process failure

Cumbria County Council acted unlawfully by failing to provide a Compact-compliant consultation process when it decided to introduce charging for day care services, a high court judge heard yesterday.

In the opening day of the judicial review case that could allow voluntary sector organisations to sue councils that ignore the agreement, the barrister acting for the Age Concern South Lakeland service-user who brought the case said the council breached the agreement by failing to carry out a full 12-week consultation.

“It is plain that 12 weeks was not provided,” barrister Kate Markus said. “I say that no lawful consultation was undertaken at all.”

Compact guidelines dictate that consultations should last at least 12 weeks. Voluntary organisations only had five weeks to gather responses from stakeholders, making any consultation with individuals impossible, Markus said.
“The timescale involved simply deprived the organisations of making any meaningful response.”

But under questioning from the judge, Markus admitted that there was no “magic” around having 12 weeks in which to consult stakeholders.

The service-user bringing the case fears that introducing means-tested day care charges will cause people to stop attending. This could make some services unviable, she claims.

If she wins and the judge cites the Compact as a critical factor in the case, it could open the door for voluntary sector organisations to take legal action against public bodies that flout its content (Third Sector, 12 September).

Cumbria County Council denies the claims, and said that voluntary organisations had wilfully ignored their side of the Compact.

Charities and voluntary organisations should have begun consulting stakeholders as soon as they became aware of the plan to introduce charging for day care services, the council said.

“[Voluntary sector organisations] made a decision that they were going to campaign against the decision but they also made a decision not to engage in any kind of analysis because that would defeat their argument,” the council told the judge.

The case continues.

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