Initial statement on Prime Minister's comments at CBI conference

david cameronOn 19 November 2012, David Cameron gave a speech to the CBI conference about ‘plans to help British business thrive’. He referred to:

  • ‘Calling time’ on Equality Impact Assessments
  • Reducing government consultations
  • Cutting back on judicial reviews

The full speech can be read on the Number 10 website, and the BBC report also provides an overview.
 
The statement below aims to clarify some of his comments and reiterate the impact of them for Compact groups.

It is an initial statement, and we will be seeking further comment on it, so please check back for updates.
 
‘Calling time’ on Equality Impact Assessments
 
We acknowledge that many of our members and Compact groups will be concerned about the removal of Equality Impact Assessments. However, since the Equality Act 2010 came into force it has never been a requirement for local authorities to undertake an Equality Impact Assessment (EIA).
 
The requirement has always been for public bodies to comply with the Equality Act, not to do an EIA. There has to be a process to ensure compliance with the duty, but this does not have to be an EIA.
 
The quick start guide for public bodies ‘Equality Act 2010: Specific duties to support the equality duty’ states:
 
‘The specific duties do not require public bodies to prepare or publish equality schemes, equality action plans, equality impact assessments, or separate annual reports on equality.’
        
However, it also states:
 
‘The Equality Duty requires public bodies to consider how the decisions that they make, and the services they deliver, affect people who share different protected characteristics. The specific duties require public bodies to publish information to show they did this.’
        
Implications for the Compact
 
At a time when the policy landscape is changing so rapidly, EIAs have proven to be a valuable way of ensuring that new policies or changes to funding arrangements do not have a negative impact on any under-represented or disadvantaged groups.
 
We know that many local Compacts have used EIAs to challenge funding decisions and to ensure that no equality group is unfairly impacted upon when new policies are being introduced or developed.
 
If local authorities stop doing EIAs, then for Compact groups this may mean rephrasing the question:  rather than asking ‘have you done an EIA on this?’, you would be better off asking ‘how can you demonstrate that the decision you have made has been taken with due regard to your duties under the Equality Act and the affect that they will have on people with protected characteristics?’
 
We encourage Compact groups and partners to ensure that individuals, groups and organisations representing different equality strands are signed up to local Compacts and represented on local Compact working groups. Ensuring ongoing engagement will mean that equality issues are kept high on the agenda for Compact groups, and that the needs and interests of a diverse range of stakeholders are represented.

Any changes to the ways such working groups are funded or established, or how the Compact is used locally (such as withdrawing a district Compact in favour of a county-wide agreement) would likely benefit from consideration of the impact to equality groups.
 
The Compact states:

Undertakings for the Government:
 
5.1 Work with Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) that represent, support or provide services to people specifically protected by legislation and other under-represented and disadvantaged groups. Understand the specific needs of these groups by actively seeking the views of service users and clients. Take these views into account, including assessing impact, when designing and implementing policies, programmes and services.

Reducing government consultations
 
The speech stated:
 
“Next, government consultations.
 
When we came to power there had to be a three month consultation on everything and I mean everything, no matter how big or small.
 
So we are saying to Ministers: here’s a revolutionary idea you decide how long a consultation period this actually needs.
 
If you can get it done properly in a fortnight, great, indeed the Department for Education has already had a consultation done and dusted in two weeks.
 
And we are going further, saying: if there is no need for a consultation, then don’t have one.”
        
Implications for the Compact
 
The prime minister’s comments echo the guidance on consultation principles, issued by the Cabinet Office in July 2012.
 
This guidance contained the removal of 12 weeks as the minimum consultation period. The 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 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 issued a statement on the guidance when it was published, which is available on our website
 
We have also published the guidance note ‘Ensuring Meaningful Engagement when Consulting’. The Guidance - which includes a statement from Nick Hurd MP, Minister for Civil Society - provides a benchmark of the minimum expected in order for engagement on consultations to be considered meaningful.
 
Cutting back on judicial reviews
  
The speech stated:
 
“First, judicial reviews. This is a massive growth industry in Britain today. Back in 1998 there were four and a half thousand applications for review and that number almost tripled in a decade. Of course some are well-founded as we saw with the West Coast mainline decision. But let’s face it: so many are completely pointless.
 
Last year, an application was around 5 times more likely to be refused than granted. We urgently needed to get a grip on this. So here’s what we’re going to do.
 
Reduce the time limit when people can bring cases.
 
Charge more for reviews so people think twice about time-wasting.
 
And instead of giving hopeless cases up to four bites of the cherry to appeal a decision, we will halve that to two.”
        
Implications for the Compact
 
A Compact breach will not directly lead to a judicial review, but the Compact has been referenced in judicial review proceeding and judgements.

It is worth noting that other accountability measures have been launched since the renewed national Compact was published in December 2010. The Local Government Ombudsmen has said that it will consider Compact breaches. Also, recent Best Value Statutory Guidance may make future cases stronger.
 
The important thing to consider from these changes to the judicial review process is that they are only used when things go wrong. We must ensure that the Compact is used properly by local authorities, and that relationships are open, transparent and accountable to local Compacts.

 
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