Select Committee on Public Administration Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


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 questionnaires.

  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 approaches.

Jack Straw

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 30 April 2001