Memorandum by the Home Office
Your letter of 16 February sought information
on innovative approaches to consultation used by the Home Office
since 1997. Given the breadth of work which my Department covers,
you will appreciate that it is impossible to capture everything
which has been done. The response, therefore concentrates in detail
on two particular areas where we have worked hard to ensure effective
consultation, including through the use of innovative approaches
and gives examples of some of the other work which has been undertaken
over the last three years. My officials would be happy to assist
with any clarification or further detail which you might require.
2. "Listen up" and "supporting
families" are the two areas on which I shall concentrate.
The purpose of Listen up has been to ensure that Government
policy on youth is better informed by consulting with young people
on the issues which are important to them and to find out the
differences gender makes to young people's lives so that policy
can reflect these. The Supporting families consultation
work was to seek views on the Government's consultation document
of the same named published in November 1998.
3. For Listen up the National Youth
Agency were contracted to use their existing contacts with youth
workers and youth groups to select a sample of young people who
would be geographically, ethnically and socially diverse. The
consultation continued over six months facilitated by youth workers
in an atmosphere of trust and openness where all involved, including
sometimes unconfident and inarticulate young people felt able
to express their views. Groups were given questionnaires and discussion
guides around emerging Government policy, however agendas for
discussion were left largely to the young people. They were encouraged
to express themselves in whatever way they chose and, amongst
other things, they produced videos, photos, rap dance and puppetry.
All of the work and dialogue was brought together in an event
at London's Sound Republic nightclub where the young people displayed
their work and Paul Boateng, Baroness Jay, Tessa Jowell and I
talked face to face with them, In addition to all this, YouthNet
and Research International Qualitif were contracted to carry out
vox pops and focus group interviews, and to create a CD ROM and
website page reflecting young people's views.
4. Supporting families consultations
was perhaps slightly more traditional but nonetheless provides
good examples of innovation. Over 6,000 copies of the full document
were sent to local authorities, LEAs, relevant health and social
services bodies, professional organisations, national and local
voluntary and community organisations involved in family support,
relevant criminal justice agencies, professionals and individuals.
150,000 summary leaflets were distuributed to Citizen's Advice
Bureaux, libraries, GP surgeries, post offices and community centres.
In addition, an audio news release was produced and distributed
to 226 local radio stations. The full document was also posted
on the Home Office website. Consultation events were held by national
voluntary organisations for their Members and a multiple choice
questionnaire was produced by one such organisation for their
Members to complete.
5. Between 400 and 600 young people took
part in the Listen up dialogue with 37 youth groups directly
involved. Levels of involvement varied from questionnaire responses
to months of sustained group discussions and effort. Over 1,000
responses were received on the Supporting families consultation
document from a wide range of interests, including a particularly
good response from individual members of the public. The document
itself was accessed by over 3,000 people on the website.
6. I am very pleased with the outcome of
both of these exercises. Listen up has successfully reached
and involved young people who would normally have been excluded
and has fostered good relations with young people and youth workers.
It has also been a developmental exercise for those young people
involved and is a clear demonstration of the Government's commitment
to involving and consulting young people in policy development.
Specific outcomes from the consultation include better informed
policy on youth and the generation of gender specific policies
such as a new initiative on work experience for boys and girls
in non-traditional areas for their gender. It has also led to
the production of the "Listen up" report to be
published shortly. In the case of Supporting families the
consultation has successfully reached a wide range of people,
raised the profile of the issue of family support and got people
talking. In my view, this last point is every bit as important
as any legislative changes. An overview of the responses was published
in June 1999 and the results are being use in the ongoing development
of family policy across Government.
7. Your letter asks what lessons were learned.
The first that I would highlight is that is takes a lot of hard
work and commitment to undertake consultation exercises of this
type and to engage with those who would not normally be reached.
Additionally, working through intermediary organisations can also
prove problematic and affect the quality of the results. Timescales
to which Government and those being consulted work can also be
different with the result that keeping up momentum can be difficult.
But, the results of these two exercises have been very positive
for all involved.
8. In an attempt to capture some of the
other innovative consultative work being done by my Department.
I have grouped examples within four broad themes: technology;
non-traditional paper based; face-to-face/interactive examples;
and, finally, the public involvement in Crime Reduction Partnerships.
9. Dealing first with technology based initiatives,
the most obvious examples are of course the various websites covering
Home Office business, all of which have scope for a degree of
interaction. Interest in these sites has been high. The most recent
information published on the average number of hits (page impressions)
per month showed 1.04 million hits for the Home Office, 30,000
for the Forensic Science service, 91,000 for the Prison Service
and 211,000 for the Passport Agency. The Internet has also been
used successfully to publish reports and other information likely
to be of interest to the public. In the case of the draft Freedom
of Information Bill for example, reports of the Select Committees
have been published on the internet along with transcripts of
evidence given. 9.3 per cent of all the responses received by
the Home Office's Freedom of Information Unit have been made electronically.
Another Internet example is the planned development of a new website
to support community and school awareness and participation in
the first UK Holocaust Memorial day on 27 January 2001.
10. Examples of public participation in
non-traditional paper-based initiatives include the British Crime
Survey, customer surveys and market research carried out for the
Passport Agency to gauge public opinion, and, as part of our Crime
Reduction Partnership work involving police and local authorities,
the seeking of public feedback by police officers in Oxford through
11. Interactive and face to face participation
techniques are also widely used. Internally, both the Home Office
and Prison Service Management Boards, run phone-in days with Home
Office staff. Although these are essentially internal events,
they are important conduits for information from front line service
deliverers to the most senior managers of Home Office business,
hence their inclusion here. For some years the Passport Agency
has run a Consultative Panel of Passport Users and the Criminal
Records bureau has recently run a series of focus groups to test
the service standards intended for inclusion in their business
plan and service contracts. Seminars and open meetings with community
leaders and women's groups have been held to identify practical
solutions to the problem of forced marriages. There have also
been closed meetings for victims. In Medway, again as part of
our crime reduction partnership work, focus groups have been run
with women who have been victims of domestic violence. There are
many similar examples.
12. I have already touched on a couple of
initiatives flowing from Crime Reduction Partnerships. The Crime
and Disorder Act 1998 placed upon police and local authorities
a duty to formulate and implement a strategy to reduce crime in
their area. In so doing, they must work in co-operation with a
range of other organisations. There is also a requirement on them
to consult with the community and this has resulted in many examples
of innovation. In Basingstoke a competition was run for schools
on community safety issues. Bradford undertook an extensive consultation
exercise, including a peer led process for consulting with young
people facilitated by the Youth Service. Cannock Chase worked
with the Council for Voluntary Organisations to contact a wide
range of voluntary agencies and in Sunderland an audio copy of
their crime audit report was provided on the police neighbourhood
watch voicemail. In Camden, effort has been put into including
those often excluded by for example translation services and large
print versions of consultation material.
13. I look forward to seeing the results
of your inquiry. The Home Office is working hard to reach out
to the public in policy formulation and service delivery and,
as I hope this letter manages to convey, is open to new and innovative