“Citizens’ Juries could become the core of a revived local democracy”

Owl says: a bit too radical for EDDC which is predicated on NOT listening to its citizens! It surely would have to be forced on the district with its current majority party!

“The Department of Digital, Culture Media and Sport has also now decided to pilot participatory democratic approaches in local authorities around England. Scotland and Wales are having their own discussions.

As with many innovations, the devil will be in the detail.

They will need to be representative of the area they are discussing. If half the residents are over 50, half the jury members should be too. They mustn’t be self-selecting: they can’t be yet another platform for the already engaged.

Both the Democracy Matters assembly on city regions and the Citizens’ Assembly on Brexit paid participants a token amount to reach ordinary citizens who wouldn’t normally volunteer.

In order for them to be Citizens’ Juries in more than just name, they need to have three equally important phases.

The first phase is learning about the options and how the process will work. Participants are guided through the current state of affairs and presented with the options for change.

Traditionally this has meant impartial experts preparing papers and delivering short lectures, which Ed Hammond correctly points out can get quite expensive. To combat this, we ran an experimental deliberative programme in the run-up to the EU referendum with recorded videos from academics from the ESRC’s UK in a Changing Europe project.

Following their briefing, participants then hear from campaigners, presenting their case for why the assembly should side with them. Members can question them armed with the knowledge they gained in the previous phase, and – if the assemblies I’ve attended are any measure – will rigorously scrutinise them.

The last phase is the deliberation itself. Breaking up into small groups and facilitated to ensure no one person dominates, they discuss amongst themselves everything they’ve heard, feeding back into the full assembly and eventually voting.

Citizens’ Juries are nothing like the fractious social media debate that tends to pass for political discussion today. All sides have a common pool of knowledge to draw from, and by discussing issues face-to-face, are far more likely to compromise.

They are also, in many ways, at the opposite end from the local councils they will be advising. Due to the voting system, local government in England is not representative of local political opinions, let alone local demographics.

It would be a shame if Citizens’ Juries became just another institution bolted on to deal with the unrepresentative nature of our local electoral system, rather than deal with the problem at the source. …”

https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/citizens-juries-could-become-the-core-of-a-revived-local-democracy/

“Councils in crisis – consult more, not less”

“Lessons from the Northants County Libraries judicial review.

Rumour has it that there are several councils in danger of following Northamptonshire towards a similar financial plight. If so, they need to pay attention for the High Court has ruled against Northants’ decision to make cuts in its Libraries provision. A cash crisis evidently does not excuse councils of their duties under the Law of Consultation.

What happened here is that the County Council prepared options for rationalising its Libraries at the end of 2017. Its consultation was, according to the Court, perfectly acceptable, as was a decision taken by the Cabinet to support a ‘least worst’ option subject to further studies. What went wrong is that a few days afterwards there came a S. 114(3) notice under the Local Government and Finance Act 1988. It meant that the full Council meeting a week later reversed the decision and adopted a different option that might save more money.

Unfortunately, at that point the Council had no clear view of the true implications of the switch to the second option. Neither had it been able to consider the outcome of the further work that the Cabinet had identified as being necessary when it took its first decision. Part of this was because some of the Libraries were co-located with grant-aided children’s centres and closures involved potential grant claw back. Subsequently promising to hold a further consultation on those children’s centres did not correct the mistake of having been unaware of the impacts when the decision to close was actually taken.

A similar conclusion arises in respect of the challenge claimants issued in respect of Section 7 of the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964. This prescribes the statutory requirements for the service, and councils everywhere should heed the words of Mrs Justice Yip, as follows: –

“The result was that the executive decision to close libraries appears to have been taken without balancing the statutory duty against the financial pressures. The Cabinet cannot be criticised for being motivated by financial concerns. However, finances could not be the sole consideration. The Cabinet still had to be satisfied that they were complying with their legal duties. On the evidence before me, I am not satisfied that they appreciated what they had to decide.” (at Paragraph 88)

Irrespective of the legal niceties, the practical issues raised by this are serious:

Under what circumstances can public bodies amend their decisions following a consultation and what are the processes they should follow when they do so?
If you agree that further study is required following consideration of consultation responses, are there consequences were you not to be able to undertake those studies?

During the consideration period, what steps need to be taken to demonstrate that, in addition to taking account of consultee responses, there is also a proper assessment of statutory requirements?

This is the second important case affecting local government budget consultations within days. The other is the judgment on 3rd August in the in the Bristol City Council case where the Special Educational Needs (SEN) budget reductions were ruled unlawful.

Is it maybe time for Councils everywhere to re-think their Budget consultation practices and ensure they will not fall into some of the traps which ensnared Northamptonshire and Bristol. The upshot will almost certainly be that Councils facing financial turbulence may have to consult more – not less.”

https://www.consultationinstitute.org/councils-in-crisis-consult-more-not-less/

The bigger the decision, the less we are consulted

Guardian letter:

“George Monbiot’s article about the proposed Oxford-Cambridge expressway exposes how grand schemes are conceived and presented for “consultation” when only the trivial issues remain (These projects shape our lives. But we have no say in them, Journal, 22 August).

My work takes me to parts of the world often criticised for being undemocratic, where plans worked out behind closed doors and backed by powerful interest groups are indeed presented for “consultation”. This fait accompli approach fails to give people a real say, however, and gives a veneer of democratic accountability to projects with negative social and environmental impacts. Western governments express concern over how local rights are ignored in such places, but this is also happening here.

To expressways and HS2s, add hundreds of smaller decisions imposed on people against their wishes. In my town, in spite of 100% local opposition, a successful secondary school was closed, with serious consequences for local demographics and economic life. Local voices in the UK are powerless against a system that is essentially authoritarian, blind to community issues and needs, and light years away from asking if the relentless pursuit of growth really is the solution to all our problems. As in many countries where democracy is cosmetic, our leaders resort to “national interest” or “we know best” arguments, while pandering to corporate interests or driven blindly by political targets.

The Oxford-Cambridge expressway is an example of a much deeper malaise at the heart of our democracy, where people have little say over what really affects their lives.
Christopher Tanner
Llandovery, Carmarthenshire”

Another local government HQ sale horror story

District council sells town council HQ without consultation as the private developer’s offer was twice what the town council could afford:

https://www.devonlive.com/news/devon-news/sale-crediton-town-hall-an-1927970

“The bigger the question, the less we are asked”

Owl says: he is behind the times – just about everything that we pay for is now decided “behind closed doors”. Examples: Local Enterprise Partnership, Greater Exeter Planning Strategy, local Clinical Commissioning Group. All our money and all decided in secret.

“… A striking example is the government’s plan for an Oxford-to-Cambridge expressway. A decision to which we have not been party, which will irrevocably change the region it affects, is imminent. The new road, says the plan, will support the construction of a million homes.

To give you some sense of the scale of this scheme, consider that Oxfordshire will have to provide 300,000 of them. It currently contains 280,000 homes. In 30 years, if this scheme goes ahead, the county must build as many new houses, and the infrastructure, public services and businesses required to support them, as have been built in the past 1,000. A million new homes amounts, in effect, to an Oxford-Cambridge conurbation.

But none of this is up for debate. By the time we are asked for our opinion, there will be little left to discuss but the colour of the road signs. The questions that count, such as whether the new infrastructure should be built, or even where it should be built, will have been made without us.

The justification for this scheme is not transport or housing as an end in itself. Its objective, according to the National Infrastructure Commission, is to enable the region “to maximise its economic potential”. Without this scheme, the commission insists, Oxford and Cambridge and the region between them “will be left behind, damaging the UK’s global competitiveness”.

This reasoning, you might hope, would prompt some major questions. Is continued growth, in one of the wealthiest regions of the world, desirable? If it is desirable, does it outweigh the acceleration of climate breakdown the scheme will cause? When air pollution already exceeds legal limits, are new roads and their associated infrastructure either appropriate or safe? And are we really engaged in a race with other nations, in which being “left behind” is something to be feared?

But these questions are not just closed to debate. They are not even recognised as questions. The megalomaniacs with their pencils, the rulers with their rulers, assume that their unexamined premises are shared by everyone. …

By imposing this decision, the government ignores its legal obligations. It has failed to conduct a strategic environmental assessment before the corridor decision is made, as the law insists. Under the Aarhus convention, public participation must begin while “all options are open”. But neither people nor law can be allowed to disrupt a grand design.

This is not democracy. This is not even a semblance of democracy. Yet the consequences of such decisions will be greater than almost any others that are made, because they are irreversible. The bigger the question, the less we are asked.”

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/aug/22/project-britain-debate-oxford-cambridge-expressway

Planning consultation – new NPPF weakens public input

“In May, the Government (Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government) held a consultation on revisions to the National Planning Policy Framework – the headline planning policy document from which all other planning policy stems.

The Institute responded to the consultation, specifically commenting on the very opaque legislation / guidance surrounding the requirements for consultation in planning and development.

Despite growing concern about public disaffection in the planning system, the guidance contained within the original NPPF was very vague: while developers were encouraged to engage and the benefits are described, there was nothing in law to require developers to consult local people before submitting a planning application.

The revised NPPF has now been published and we were disappointed to see that very little has changed in the requirement to consult.

Engagement is still only ‘encouraged’; one of the few changes being that it has been extended from solely statutory, to both statutory and non-statutory consultees.

However, the list of information requirements that local authorities must make of developers has been reduced from ‘proportionate to the nature and scale of development proposals’ to ‘kept to the minimum needed to make decisions’. To view the exact changes between the two documents, click here:

Click to access The-NPPF-on-Pre-application-engagement-and-front-loading-a-comparison-between-the-original-and-revised-versions-1.pdf

While the legal requirement for developers to consult remains opaque, the notion that community involvement can benefit planning decisions is unequivocal.

Planning is ultimately about people: whether a local authority-run strategic plan or a private sector-led development proposal, change to the built environment impacts on communities. While it is generally believed that those proposing changes should involve local residents as a courtesy, additionally planners and developers have much to benefit from involving local people.

Consultation provides the opportunity to glean information and ideas from a local community. This might include knowledge of local history and which has the potential to enrich a scheme, otherwise unknown social issues which might have delayed the process, and the needs and aspirations of the community which may be met through the new development. With local input, proposals can be enriched and finely tuned to a specific neighbourhood, creating a unique scheme well suited to its location.

The local community, too, can benefit: community involvement can promote social cohesion, strengthen individual groups within it and create a shared legacy.

Following local dialogue at an early stage and having had proposals either challenged or welcomed, a developer has a greater chance of building local support for a proposed scheme. And a well-run consultation can build a trusting and mutually cooperative relationship between the developer and the community, which can minimise the potential for conflict and thereby remove risk in the process.

While tCI is disappointed by the lack of commitment to consultation in the revised NPPF, we are encouraged that policy might ultimately change following the Raynsford Review, a review of the planning system which has been commissioned by the Town and Country Planning Association and makes community participation a high priority. To view tCI ‘s contribution to the Review’s Interim Report, click here:

https://www.consultationinstitute.org/tcis-response-to-the-interim-report-of-the-raynsford-review-on-greater-community-involvement-in-planning/

https://www.consultationinstitute.org/the-nppf-and-consultation-or-revised-planning-policy-and-consultation/

Consultation: new case law a game-changer

Owl reported all these cases as the happened but it is useful to see them all in one place.

Consultation is going to have to mean consultation!

Four JR judgments in fifteen days with profound implications for public consultations! Almost every current public consultation – or those under preparation might be affected by one or more of these important judgments.

https://www.lawgazette.co.uk/practice/appeal-over-criminal-legal-aid-decision-still-on-the-cards/5067256.article

“Fears seafront consultation internet portal could stop third of town having their say”

“Concerns have been raised that plans for an online portal for consultation on the vision for Exmouth seafront could leave 30 per cent of the town unable to have their say.

Hemingway Designs has been tasked with coming up with a vision for ‘phase three’ of the Exmouth seafront regeneration scheme and it was revealed at a town council meeting the seaside specialists will soon be launching an internet consultation website.

At the council’s August meeting, concerns were raised that if this was the only form of consultation, nearly a third of residents in Exmouth would be left unable to have their say.

East Devon District Council (EDDC) has since said there will be hard copies available for those without access to computers.

Speaking at the meeting, cllr Lynne Elson said: “My concern is that the majority of comments will be through the online portal.

“More than 30 per cent of residents in Exmouth don’t have access to online and if they do as suggested by EDDC and ‘go to the library’ they will have to pay as they will exceed the time allowed.”

Cllr Tim Dumper added: “We do need other ways of consulting.

“In the past East Devon (district council) hasn’t always covered itself in glory when it comes to consultation. “This time things are going very well.

“I wouldn’t like to let those 30 per cent or so down. Particularly involving residents who feel very strongly about our seafront and I think it would be wrong not to involve them fully in any consultation.”

A spokeswoman for EDDC said: “Hemingway Design will shortly be launching their survey to hear people’s views and ideas for this piece of Devon’s seaside.

“It will be easy to complete as you can do it online through the portal that Hemingway Design is setting up.

“When the survey is launched if you need access to a computer then you will be able to use the ones that we have in Exmouth Town Hall reception for free or paper copies will, of course, be available.

“The survey is being finalised at the moment and will be available soon.

“There will be an announcement to that effect.”

http://www.exmouthjournal.co.uk/news/hemingway-designs-consultation-portal-plans-for-seafront-development-revealed-1-5653129

“Government to trial citizens juries and mass online polls in local decision-making”

Owl says: as with all these ideas, proof of the pudding is in the eating.

Remember, we are less than a year away from local elections and promises will be poured out until they are over!

And, maybe, it’s just a way of forcing us to make rationing decisions and deflecting responsibility from government policies leading to rationing in the first place

“The government is to trial ways for people to take a more direct role in decisions that affect their local area, with proposals for “Citizens’ Juries” or mass participation in decision-making on community issues via an online poll or app.

The proposal is part of the first Civil Society Strategy in 15 years, which was unveiled today by Tracey Crouch, Minister for Sport and Civil Society.
“Many people feel disenfranchised and disempowered, and the government is keen to find new ways to give people back a sense of control over their communities’ future,” the document says.

“Participatory democracy methods, such as Citizens’ Juries, can make a profound difference to people’s lives: evidence shows that enabling people to participate in the decisions that affect them improves people’s confidence in dealing with local issues, builds bridges between citizens and the government, fosters more engagement, and increases social capital. It also increases people’s understanding of how decisions are taken, and leads to authorities making better decisions and developing more effective solutions to issues as a broader range of expertise can be tapped into to solve public issues.”

The ‘Innovation in Democracy’ pilot scheme will take place in six regions across the country “to trial face-to-face deliberation (such as Citizens’ Juries) complemented by online civic tech tools to increase broad engagement and transparency”.

The publication also says the government wishes to go devolve more power to community groups and parishes. It will explore with the National Association of Local Councils and others the option for local ‘charters’ between a principal council, local councils, and community groups setting out respective responsibilities.

“This could include joint service delivery or the transfer of service delivery responsibilities to local councils, parishes or community groups, the transfer of borough council assets to local councils, or from councils to parishes, and the opportunity for councils or parishes to ‘cluster’, that is to form a consortium with sufficient scale to commission or deliver larger service functions,” it adds.

Other initiatives set out in the Civil Society Strategy include:

Revising the guidance that helps communities take ownership of local assets.

Exploring means of ensuring community-led enterprises which take over public assets or services are able to secure the funding they need.

Improving the use of the Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012 “to ensure that organisations can generate more social value for communities when spending public money on government contracts”. The government will explore the potential for the use of social value in grants as well as contracts, and the suggestion that the Act should be applied to other areas of public decision-making such as planning and community asset transfer. Also, “as announced on 25 June 2018, central government departments will be expected to apply the terms of the Act to goods and works and to ‘account for’ the social value of new procurements, rather than just ‘consider’ it as currently. The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport will lead the way by applying this wider remit to major projects, to be followed by other departments in due course.

Exploring (through the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government) the potential of transfers of public land to community-led housing initiatives, such as Community Land Trusts, by which residents become members of a trust which holds land and housing on behalf of the community.

Unlocking £20m from inactive charitable trusts (those which spend less than 30% of their annual income) to support community organisations over the next two years.

Supporting charities “to make their voices heard on issues that matter to them and ensuring that charitable trustees reflect the diversity of the society they serve”.

Distributing money from dormant bank accounts to independent organisations that will (a) get disadvantaged young people into employment (£90m) and (b) tackle financial exclusion and the problem of access to affordable credit (£55m).

Jeremy Wright, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, said: “Our plans stand side-by-side with the Industrial Strategy, supporting its drive to grow the economy, while creating an environment where people and communities are at the heart of decision-making.

“These ambitious plans will harness the expertise of volunteers, charities and business to help people take a more active part in their local areas.”
Tracey Crouch said: “Civil society is the bedrock of our communities. It is made up of the volunteers, youth workers, charities and innovative businesses that work to improve lives and make areas better for all.
“Our strategy builds on this spirit of common good to help create a country that works for everyone. I want people, organisations and businesses to feel inspired to get involved and make a difference.

“Through collaboration, we will unlock the huge potential of this incredible sector, help it grow, support the next generation and create a fairer society.”

http://localgovernmentlawyer.co.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=36313%3Agovernment-to-trial-citizens-juries-and-mass-online-polls-in-local-decision-making&catid=59&Itemid=27

Devon CCGs want to merge (but looks like they already did it!)

Owl says: anyone recallveing consulted about this? And surely, if it is for cost-sVing, all previous financial scenarios at the two CCGs must be recalculated. And shouldn’t this be rescrutinised by DCC?

“North East and West (NEW) Devon CCG is hoping to merge with South Devon and Torbay CCG in April next year. Both CCGs have expressed an interest to NHS England to merge the organisations, in what they say is the ‘next natural step’. In May last year, NEW Devon CCG refuted claims it had ‘gone bust’ – though it did have a defecit of £42million in 2016/17.

Last year (2017/18) NEW Devon CCG had a planned defecit just shy of £50million.

It is thought the merger would help both organisations face funding challenges in the years ahead; they have already made a saving of £4million working together in the last year. This has includinged merging the two executive teams and establishing a common governing body and committees.
Executive directors now sit in Devon-wide roles working across both CCGs.

Dr Sonja Manton, director of strategy at the two CCGs in Devon, said: “We have made significant progress working as a health and care system in Devon over the past two years.

“As commissioners (buyer) of health care services for our local population, our two CCGs have worked more closely together for over a year, and this has brought many improvements and benefits such as speeding up decision making and making cost savings and efficiencies of nearly £4million on running costs.

“We have achieved much more together than we would have working separately. “A merger of our two organisations is the natural next step, and we have expressed an interest to NHS England to merge our two organisations from April 2019. “We are working with staff, clinicians, partners and stakeholders to ensure that everyone is involved in the changes as they develop. “This is an important step in our journey to better integrate health and care services to benefit our local communities.

“In Devon, we have well-established joint working arrangements with our local government partners and this will be strengthened as we design a new more integrated approach.”

https://www.northdevongazette.co.uk/news/proposals-to-merge-two-devon-ccgs-1-5642433