Compact Voice statement on government’s changes to Consultation Guidance

The Cabinet Office recently issued revised Consultation Principles, which replace the Code of Practice on Consultation. Government departments and other public bodies will use the principles for engaging stakeholders when developing policy and legislation.

A key change to the legislation is the removal of 12 weeks as the minimum consultation period. The new principles state that 'departments will follow a range of timescales rather than defaulting to a 12-week period, particularly where extensive engagement has occurred before'.

The Compact states that 'Where it is appropriate, and enables meaningful engagement, conduct 12-week formal written consultations, with clear explanations and rationale for shorter time-frames or a more informal approach.'
The new guidance explains how departments will ensure that consultations are made as meaningful as possible, and states a continued commitment to the principles of the Compact.

Compact Voice has now issued a statement outlining our position on this development, alongside outlining the implications for local Compact groups and listing next steps. The statement also responds to some of the concerns that have been raised around this issue, and outlines how voluntary organisations can use the new guidance to hold government to account.

The full statement is available below, or you can download it along with briefing notes here. James Allen, Head of Compact Voice, has also written a blog outlining what voluntary organisations can do to ensure their own engagement with stakeholders is meaningful.

In July 2012, Oliver Letwin, Minister for Policy in the Cabinet Office, issued a written statement introducing new guidance about how government will undertake consultations.

Describing this approach as ‘more proportionate and targeted’, both the statement and the briefing reaffirmed government’s commitment to the Compact. The guidance also states that ‘the amount of time required [for consultation] will depend on the nature and impact of the proposal’ and this ‘might vary between two and twelve weeks’.

Meaningful engagement has been an important element of the Compact throughout its history, with the latest iteration stating:

“Where it is appropriate, and enables meaningful engagement, conduct 12-week formal written consultations, with clear explanations and rationale for shorter time-frames or a more informal approach.”

Some of our members and networks have expressed concern that the new guidance suggests that government might be relaxing its approach to consultation, and that this might prevent organisations from responding or engaging with policy decisions which affect them. Whilst we are aware of these concerns, Compact Voice believes that this statement provides helpful clarity about how government will engage, reiterates the Government’s commitment to the Compact and offers the opportunity to ensure the adoption of meaningful engagement guidance across government. This new guidance removes the principle of a 12 week consultation as a default, but consultations should still last for 12 weeks (or longer) if this is required to ensure meaningful engagement. 

Following discussions with Cabinet Office about these concerns, officials provided assurance that it remains committed to the principles of the Compact, and that this guidance was intended to clarify and ensure that consultations across government are conducted meaningfully.

This guidance applies to central government departments and does not suggest that changes are needed to local Compacts, or that existing local arrangements are undermined. We will closely monitor the Government’s approach to consultations and assess whether this renewed guidance is changing practice.

Compact Voice members should let us know about any concerns about the new guidance and any changes, positive or negative, to consultation arrangements. 

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