Select Committee on Public Administration Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum by the Cabinet Office

Thank you for your letter of 16 February seeking our help in the Committee's inquiry into Innovations in Public Administration.

  The Cabinet Office has carried out many public consultations since May 1997. The annex to this letter lists a number of them: we have, as I think was your preference, concentrated on those where the consultation had something particularly innovative about it.

  We have tried to consult in a way that reaches as many people as possible—for example through the work on social exclusion, listening to women, listening to older people, and listening to young people ("Listen-up").

  We have tried to consult at an early stage in the policy and service development process, so that people outside Government have a better chance to shape the agenda. Consultation ought not always to be a matter of simply inviting comment on options already formulated and put on paper, though that is important too, and needs to be done properly. Ian McCartney will talk about it when he visits you shortly.

  The attached notes outline some cases where this work has fed through into firm policy decisions. In other cases, we are still developing policy.

  We, and other departments, have used a wide variety of forms of consultation. I believe we still have something to learn about the effectiveness of each. We have some plans to do this. For example, as I think Jonathan Rees from this office indicated when he made a presentation to you on People's Panel, we plan evaluation of that exercise. The new Centre for Management and Policy Studies, which has been set up as part of our drive for better, evidence-based policy-making, will be conducting case studies in policy development, and I would expect these to add to our knowledge of which methods of consultation are most effective. And in connection with our revision of the guidance on written consultation exercises we plan a website, which will point the way to best practice for the benefit of those planning consultation in the future.

  In short I think we have come a long way, but have more to learn about effective consultation, which is closely related to our objectives of achieving greater openness in Government, making it more responsive to public needs, and building trust between the citizen and the Government machine. I look forward to the Committee's report helping us in that process of improvement.

Marjorie Mowlam


  The People's Panel is a nationally representative group of 5,000 people set up in 1998 to be consulted on a range of public service and other issues. As far as we are aware, it is a world-first. It has been used so far for four major waves of research and several ad-hoc research projects. The Director of Modernising Public Services Group made a presentation to the Committee detailing the use of the People's Panel. Here are some examples of where the research has had an input into policy development.

    —  People's Panel consultation into views on biosciences made a contribution to the review of the regulatory framework for genetic development; the biosciences work also had a strong influence on the House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology. Their report on Science and Society makes extensive use of the data.

    —  School Performance Tables: the Department for Education and Employment had an urgent need to seek parents' views on value added performance tables. The report was used to provide advice to Ministers on the presentation of such performance tables.

    —  Input to housing benchmarks: the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions needed quickly to generate benchmarks on where people live to inform the Urban White Paper and Housing Green Paper. The DETR used the People's Panel to do this. The outputs from the research were analysed and the data used in different ways to inform policy.

  The Cabinet Office have held 10 Listening to Older People events across the UK between June and November 1999 to give older people opportunities to tell ministers directly about their needs and priorities for action. The process will culminate in a national listening event in the spring, from which conclusions will follow about the direction of policy and service provision relating to older people.

  Better Government for Older People is a programme of 28 local authority-led projects pioneering better ways of consulting and involving older people at local level and designing public services that are more responsive to their needs.

  The Women's Unit in the Cabinet Office carried out a sustained Listening to Women exercise. A report of findings from the exercise and the Government's measures in support of women, was launched on 6 October in an innovative magazine style publication called Voices. There were three elements to this campaign: focus groups conducted using the People's Panel, postcard questionnaires, and a series of 12 ministerial regional roadshows. Over 30,000 women participated in the exercise.

  The consultation work helped shape a number of Government responses for the future, also set out in Voices.

  We consulted front line public sector staff to identify their perception of the burden of regulation, bureaucracy and red tape, through interviews with selected staff. The interview process was [designed to be representative, identify bias and achieve consistency]. An innovative scoring system was developed to compare responses. Future work of the Regulatory Impact Unit will be based on the findings of this consultation.

  The Listen-Up Campaign. This was a joint Cabinet Office/Home Office initiative to encourage and facilitate constructive dialogue between Government and young people. The consultation has taken place over the last year. The Women's Unit in the Cabinet Office and the Home Office have worked with voluntary organisations to consult through youth groups, vox pops [what are they], web forums and an all-day event. The focus on looking at the different needs of young men and young women was also novel. We are publishing the report of the Listen-Up campaign in April. It will outline not only the findings of the consultation but our response to them.

  The Central IT Unit of the Cabinet Office conducted a major survey in 1998 on people's attitudes to electronic government. The report of this is helping to inform our development of electronic services for the public, reflected in the e-government strategy we are to launch shortly.

  The Social Exclusion Unit has undertaken a range of consultations on: truancy and school exclusions; rough sleeping; neighbourhood renewal; teenage pregnancy; and opportunities for 16 and 17 year olds not in training or employment. As well as written consultations on these issues, there were seminars with teachers, parents, pupils, voluntary organisations; meetings with rough sleepers; visits to day centres; visits to 17 cities and towns; face-to-face meetings with young people and parents; and discussion groups. The research has fed through into the reports of a large number of Policy Action Teams set up under the SEU initiative.

  The Cabinet Office's Performance and Innovation Unit have also conducted a number of consultations:

    —  Regions: a formal consultation note was put out to stakeholders and on the web for the PIU regions project, and people were encouraged to respond via e-mail. We commissioned consultants to analyse the response to this report, which highlighted some major problems and this fed into the final report (published in February 2000, copy on the PIU Website). The report represents Government policy and a new regional co-ordination unit and enhanced role for Government Offices of the regions have been two of the main outcomes;

    —  Rural economies: a consultation document was issued to several hundred stakeholders. The Report was published in December 1999 and is being taken forward in rural White Paper;

    —  The electronic service delivery project: this is currently making use of the discussion forum on the No10 Website (, with a short consultation document raising a number of questions for discussion on this site.

    —  Other PIU projects: "", "Wiring It Up", "Adding It Up", active ageing projects: a large number of meetings, workshops and seminars with stakeholders were held for these. We made use of voting software systems as a way of getting a better feel for people's views. We are researching the possibility of using it more widely.

    —  PIU are also using focus groups in a few projects for some of the research and other consumer research through opinion polls as a way of getting views and testing emerging solutions, particularly for groups which may not be so well represented by NGOs or other groups within a project.

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