Cabinet Office finds government woefully inadequate on public consultation

A few choice paragraphs the tot is top down AND bottom up:

“Our conclusions appear in Chapter 4. In brief, a number of our concerns about the Government’s approach to consultation are not allayed: and we are most troubled by an apparent absence within Government, in the Cabinet Office and in individual Departments, of a commitment to monitor consultation practice and to draw lessons of general application. …

… The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) laid the Local Government (Transparency Requirements) (England) Regulations 2014 (SI 2014/2680) which served to update the Local Government Transparency Code and make it mandatory through regulations. The Department had received 219 responses to its consultation on the changes: 91 opposed the use of regulations, and only 15 explicitly supported it. In our 11th Report,20 we noted a statement by DCLG that many of the 91 opposing respondents would have been local authorities “who would naturally tend to be against regulation”; and that it was “perfectly reasonable to assume that if the 113 respondents who did not explicitly express a view were sufficiently concerned about Regulation then they would have said so in their response.” We commented that this interpretation nicely supported a pre-determined intention, but did not indicate a Department open to differing views. …

… Finally, in our 18th Report,22 we pointed out that it was bad practice if Government Departments arranged formal consultation exercises which largely coincided with holiday periods, such as the month of August, since this made it difficult for interested parties to prepare and submit responses. Yet this was the course that had been followed over the summer by two Departments: DECC, for the Greenhouse Gas Emissions Trading Scheme (Amendment) Regulations 2014 (SI 2014/3125), and Defra, for the Non- Commercial Movement of Pet Animals (Amendment) Order 2014 (SI 2014/3158). While both Departments had explained that they took other steps to alert stakeholders, we reiterated our concern that the timing of the formal consultation process might have served to disadvantage interested parties. ..

… Information subsequently received from the Cabinet Office states that there were over 300 Government consultations in the first six months of 2014, by contrast with 179 consultations in the first six months of 2012; and that the time spent consulting on a measure dropped from an average of 10.5 weeks in the first half of 2012, to 7.6 weeks in the first half of 2014. These are striking figures: the number of consultations has risen by two thirds, while the average time allowed for responses has fallen by almost one third. We recognise that these figures lend themselves to different interpretations: but one that we see as entirely possible is that, by shortening consultation deadlines, Government Departments can carry out more exercises over the same period of time, irrespective of the capacity of third parties to respond.

… We pressed Mr Letwin on the issue of responsibility for the Government’s approach to consultation, and for tackling bad practice by individual Departments. He said that the consultation principles were the property of the Cabinet as a whole; the Cabinet Office had considerable influence over the principles; but “not even the Prime Minister, let alone the mere Cabinet Office, is in charge of the entire operations of every Department. Those fall to the relevant Secretaries of State in our system, so I cannot command.”45 We found this answer unsatisfactory, and troubling. If neither the Prime Minister nor the Cabinet Office is able to intervene where Departmental consultation is falling short, and if they lack either the information or the commitment to do so, something is badly wrong”.

Click to access 98.pdf

It’s where the Housing Minister DIDN’T go that’s interesting!

The housing minister, Brandon Lewis, made a whistlestop (i.e. quick and under the public radar) visit to Lympstone and Cranbrook yesterday.

He DIDN’T visit Feniton, Gittisham or Clyst St Mary or anywhere else blighted by over-development and Council Leader Paul Diviani is conspicuous by his absence in rhe photograph. Not many people at all in the photograph, actually!

Only “good news” visits between now and the May elections!

Wainhomes at it again – this time in North Devon

Another example of Wainhomes flouting planning conditions following a successful appeal, again to do with building on green field sites and ignoring pre-commencement conditions to do with drainage. This time its Westward Ho in Devon, and not Feniton.

A lacklustre response from Torridge District Council (Head of Planning, Kate Little, ex-EDDC Head of Planning)

“New and relevant information” – no, says Monitoring Officer

A follow-up email from Sandra Semple see post yesterday):

“Thank you, East Devon Watch for achieving what I could not do alone. This morning an email came from the Monitoring Officer: no, my information was neither new (which it was) nor relevant (which I still believe it was).

My response: we shall see!

What it DOES reveal is that the Monitoring Officer appears to be not just toothless, but gumless, jawless and possibly headless, as, it seems, he can do nothing about anything except where it concerns a councillor of a minority party, in which case a Monitoring Officer (the previous one so far) goes in with all guns blazing. Hmmm.”

“Quite honestly, we have fallen flat on our face” with the relocation project, warns Honiton Councillor, Peter Halse

At last night’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee senior Tory councillor Peter Halse lashed EDDC’s Relocation Project. He said it risked the Council’s reputation for financial prudence. “At the time (the relocation project) looked OK, but now, with hindsight, it looks pretty bad….Quite honestly we have fallen flat on our face!” He was sceptical about Deputy CEO Richard Cohen’s claimed energy savings, and said employees based in the newer 1970/1980s building, “can’t see any reason why they’d want to move”. He concluded “It’s not just the leadership who are responsible. We need to look this thing full in the face. We can get out of this”.

Sidmouth resident Richard Eley, had already mauled Richard Cohen’s assumptions on future energy cost savings which were “way out of line” with those predicted by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC). Mr Cohen in response welcomed the fact that auditors would now be taking “a useful look under the bonnet, as it were”. In the meantime a preferred developer had now been selected for a mix of care home and residential properties at Knowle. The planning process would have to be gone through by the developer and further attempts to delay the Knowle sale have been factored in to the costs, he added.

When Independent Cllr Claire Wright expressed concern that EDDC’s planning committee would be under extreme pressure to grant permission to develop the Knowle because the whole relocation project depended on it, she was accused of casting doubt on the integrity of councillors.

Independent Councillor Roger Giles didn’t get a clear answer from Mr Cohen about where his 10% annual energy inflation figures came from, only that they were “conservative”! And there was no answer to Cllr Giles’ second question about how much extra the renovation of Exmouth Town Hall would cost.

Tory Cllr Graham Troman (Vice Chair of the OSC) said the Knowle site was an appreciating asset while refurbished offices or new-build on an industrial estate (e.g. Heathpark) would not recoup the money spent on them.

Tory Cllr Sheila Kerridge urged her colleagues to show transparency and “not to be seen to be doing things underhand….Put the matter on hold until we know the figures”. (echoing Cllr Claire Wright’s proposal voted down a few weeks earlier.

Chair Tim Wood concluded that all would be examined in great detail by the auditors so there was no cause for alarm.

The second burning issue was the suggested reform of Task and Finish Forums.

A proposal from a Democratic Services Officer (advised by CEO Mark Williams?) that the scope of TAFFs should be proposed by officers, seemed pretty well acceptable to the obedient majority – though it is going to be thought about first by one of Cllr Bloxham’s Think Tanks.

The controversial Business TAFF will continue with the same members as before, but without too much embarrassing looking back at relations with the East Devon Business Forum whose demise seemed to be lamented by Deputy Leader Andrew Moulding. He assured everyone that the TAFF will now have perfectly respectable relations with the new East Devon Business Group which genuinely represented the District’s entrepreneurs.It was time to turn the page, he said, and stop attacking the perceived influence of the EDBF on crucial planning decisions. The representative from Axminster concluded,fittingly, that he was not “trying to sweep anything under the carpet!”