GOVERNMENT MEMORANDUM IN RESPONSE TO THE
PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION SELECT COMMITTEE'S SIXTH REPORT ON PUBLIC
PARTICIPATION: ISSUES AND INNOVATIONS
1. The Government warmly welcomes the Committee's
report. It ties in closely with our programme. Improving public
services, our key priority, means finding out what the citizens
who use them want, and providing it. Effective participation in
central and local government decision-making by the widest possible
range of people and organisations is an important part of the
Government's commitment to democratic renewal, with change coming
from the bottom up as much as the top down.
2. Much of what we have done in our first four
years in government has been aimed at increasing participation
in this way: for example our policies on more responsive public
on local government,
on better policy-making,
on freedom of informationand
especially on effective consultation,
where we have issued a new, binding code of practice on written
consultation for central government. But effective participation
from the bottom up also depends on a healthy civil society and
the Government is doing a great deal in this area. For instance,
citizenship teaching in schools will help improve political literacy
and the social responsibility of the next generation. As a key
part of the Government's commitment to improved services to children
and young people we are also increasingly developing strategies
and good practice to ensure that children and young people themselves
are consulted and actively participate in the development of policies
for public services which affect them.
3. A healthy civil society, needed to underpin
effective public participation, also means a healthy and engaged
voluntary and community sector. Voluntary and community organisations
offer a unique opportunity for people to articulate and tackle
common interests and needs, and so develop forums for debate and
which give people the skills for negotiation, persuasions, open
mindedness and self-organisation which are crucial to a healthy
democratic culture. The Government is doing much to improve civic
renewal. For instance, the Active Community Unit (ACU) in the
Home Office provides on-going funding for organisations that increase
the effectiveness of voluntary and community organisations, including
the Home Office sponsored Community Development Foundation, as
well as those that promote volunteering. The ACU is also supporting
community activity, capacity building and community self-help
and the effective engagement of communities, all of which contribute
to civic renewal.
4. There is more work still to do in the public
participation field, and the Committee's report points the way
to much of it. We thoroughly endorse the broad thrust of the report.
The following are the Government's reactions to individual recommendations.
(a) We recommend that all departments, agencies
and public bodies should formally record in their consultation
exercises that they have adhered to the Cabinet Office Code of
Conduct on written consultation (paragraph 22).
5. The Committee's recommendation appears to
relate to the draft of the Code of Practice on Written Consultation,
which was itself, the subject of extensive consultation. The Committee
let us have some early comments on the draft, which were taken
into account in the final version, published in November 2000.
The initial General Principles section of the Code, meeting
the Committee's point, now requires that the Code's seven criteria
should be reproduced in consultation documents to which they apply,
'with an explanation of any departure, and confirmation that they
have otherwise been followed'.
(b) We recommend that the Government consider
introducing legislation to replace the multiplicity of statutory
requirements to consult with an overarching framework (paragraph
6. The Government acknowledges the desirability
of greater coherence in consultation standards. In respect of
public national consultation documents, the Code of practice establishes
a set of minimum standards for written consultation. Its effects
go much wider, however: it also requires Departments to consider
applying it to more limited consultations (General principles
section, paragraph 9). And it calls on them to take opportunities
to remove any statutory requirements that may be inconsistent
with itthough the Government is not aware of a serious
problem in this area. The Code should, therefore, bring more consistency
to central government consultations.
7. There are a number of different statutory
consultation requirements on local government, and a strong case
for rationalising them. The Government believes it would be sensible
to consider consultation requirements along with the work already
under way to rationalise plans and area-based initiatives. The
Local Government Act 2000 provides powers to amend legislation
that requires local authorities to produce plans; it could be
used, following such work, to achieve some harmonisation in consultation
(c) We recommend that the Cabinet Office produce
a list of cases where there is such an obligation to consult (paragraph
8. The Government does not see any sign of lack
of awareness among local authorities of their obligations to consult,
and doubts that an exhaustive 'map' of obligations to consultof
which there are many, often in fields of highly specialist interestwould
be of much real value to private citizens either. But where it
can be shown there is a need for more information, we are keen
to ensure it is provided, and the Department of Transport, Local
Government, and the Regions will in particular look at ways of
helping local authorities best inform citizens of their principal
(d) We support the idea of a competitive fund
for sponsoring innovation in consultation at both national and
local level (paragraph 43).
9. The Government recognises the need to encourage
innovation in consultation, which underlies this recommendation
and the one in paragraph 31 for a scheme of Good Participation
Awards. A number of existing schemes recognise effective consultation
that translates into better results.
(i) The Beacon Council Scheme
councils' approach to consulting and involving local communities
plays an important part in the decision to award beacon status.
(ii) The Central Government Beacon Scheme
promotes best practice across central government. Beacons must
be able to demonstrate quality improvements and excellence in
particular activities, which can include consultation with users.
(iii) The criteria for awards under the
Charter Mark scheme
include consulting widely on what services people need and acting
on their views.
(iv) The Invest to Save budget
can also be used to fund good consultation. ISB assessment procedures
for bids encourage proposals that are based on consultation. ISB
can be used to fund projects where improving consultation, with
improved delivery in view, is a principal objective.
(v) The Government has also supported the
Institute for Public Policy Research's award scheme for public
Dr Mo Mowlam, then Minister for the Cabinet Office, presented
the awards last year.
(e) We believe that any strategy for increasing
electoral participation at local level will have to include consideration
of the local electoral system (paragraph 44).
10. The Government does not propose to change
the local government voting system other than by the introduction
of the supplementary vote for the election of directly elected
mayors. It does not see changes to the voting system as a panacea
for the current weaknesses in local government, but favours wider
and more radical reform, encompassing electoral arrangements,
political management, finance, service provision and consultation,
as set out in the 1998 White Paper Modern Local GovernmentIn
Touch with the People.
11. Local authorities now have power to experiment
with different voting arrangements at local government elections.
These can cover when, where and how voting can take place and
how votes are counted, though not the system of voting itself.
In May 2000, 32 councils carried out 38 pilot projects, including
all-postal ballots, early and weekend voting, mobile ballot boxes,
and electronic voting and counting. Many of these experiments
were valued by voters for increased convenience. The only ones
to have a significant effect on overall turnout, however, were
all-postal ballots, and their cost was up to three times that
of conventional ballots. There are expected to be further pilots
in May 2002. The Electoral Commission
will have a role in evaluating the pilots when they have been
completed. The Secretary of State can extend successful pilots
to all local elections.
12. The Commission also has a role in voter
education. For the first time, a specific budget for voter education
has been allocated to the Commission. It has yet to decide its
priorities for this spending. In addition, the Government is particularly
interested in understanding the reasons why there has been a marked
decline in the numbers of young people voting in elections. The
Minister for Young People, with the full involvement of the Electoral
Commission, will be leading an initiative throughout the autumn
to secure views and recommendations from young people themselves
over what steps might be taken to reverse that trend.
(f) We recommend that the remit of the Electoral
Commission should be extended to allow it to issue a code governing
the conduct of local referendums, and their validation. Government
should also clarify the powers of local authorities to hold referendums
13. The Local Government Act 2000 requires the
Secretary of State to consult the Electoral Commission before
making regulations on the conduct of referendums for directly
elected mayors. The Government has also undertaken to consult
the Commission about regulations and rules that had been made
in this area prior to the Commission assuming its powers on 1
14. The Commission is also under a duty to keep
under review law and practice on referendums, including mayoral
referendums under the Local Government Act 2000. It may also provide
advice and assistance to local authorities as respects any matter
in which it has "skill and experience".
15. The Government is committed to legislating
to confirm the powers of local authorities to hold advisory referendums
as soon as legislative time permits. We expect that the Electoral
Commission would have a role here broadly similar to that in respect
of binding referendums for directly elected mayors.
(g) We believe that deliberative techniques
should be routinely employed to explore the views of citizens
on appropriate issues of scientific uncertainty (paragraph 53).
16. The Government wishes to increase public
confidence in science and in the scientific advisory system, and
to encourage dialogue between scientists and the public. There
must be sufficient opportunities for citizens to learn about scientific
developments and debate their implications and value. The House
of Lords Science and Technology Select Committee's report Science
and Society usefully
explored methods for encouraging such debate. The Government response
describes initiatives in this area, including the establishment
of two new biotechnology commissions (the Human Genetics Commission
and the Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission)
and the Food Standards Agency, with a remit to involve the public
in debate and decision-making.
17. Consultation, in whatever form, costs time
and money. Expenditure should be proportionate to the issue concerned.
Deliberative techniques are costly, and are not the right way
to tackle all issues of scientific uncertainty. Public bodies
need to draw on available research and decide what form of engagement
meets their needs, and the public's. The Government commends the
report of the Parliamentary Office for Science and Technology
(number 153), Open channels: public dialogue in science and
its consideration of these questions.
18. Deliberative techniques are widely used
elsewhere, including at times in local government;
some guidance is provided in the Cabinet Office's How to consult
your users. The
Government believes that many deliberative techniques offer positive
opportunities for local and neighbourhood deliberation. Neighbourhood
meetings, resident consultations, citizen's juries and other forums
offer such opportunities, as do innovative techniques such as
Planning for Real and Listening Surveys, pioneered by organisations
funded by the Government.
(h) We would like the Cabinet Office to consider
how the People's Panel could be more innovative and distinctive,
as well as to keep its usefulness under continuous review (paragraph
19. The Government has commissioned an independent
evaluation of the People's Panel after its first three years'
operation, by the Office for National Statistics, which is now
being finalised. Whatever the outcome, we remain strongly committed
to the principle that the views and experiences of consumers of
public services should be consulted about how well those services
are being delivered. The contract for running the Panel ends in
January 2002, and by then we shall have made decisions on future
arrangements. Innovation will be involved. The Panel is now under
the aegis of the new Office for Public Services Reform within
the Cabinet Office.
(i) We recommend that all public authorities
should have access to a code of guidance which expresses the fundamental
importance of involving the public in decision-making wherever
and however it can be made feasible at reasonable cost and in
a timely and responsible manner. The Cabinet Office should take
on responsibility for compiling this simpler and more general
set of obligations, ideally formulated around a number of basic
principles, whose derived implications in particular contexts
could be spelt out in more detail either by other central departments
giving guidance to local councils or health bodies, or by local
bodies themselves (paragraph 76).
20. The Government has not set out a number
of general principles relating to consultation in the final version
of the Code of Practice on Written Consultation, especially the
initial section. The Code itself requires that some of these principles
should be applicable more widely than the sorts of documents with
which the Code is directly concerned. There has also been guidance
on enhancing public participation in local government. We will
take every opportunity to articulate these general principles,
and to apply them more effectively in respect of consultations
across the board.
21. The Compact on relations between the Government
and the Voluntary Sector includes a Compact Code of Good Practice
on Consultation and Policy Appraisal, published in May 2000. The
Compact followed the recommendations of the Report of the Commission
on the Future of the Voluntary Sector, published in 1996, which
concluded that a Compact to develop the relationship between the
Government and the Sector would be highly desirable. The aim of
the Compact Code on Consultation and Policy Appraisal is to make
a positive impact on the way in which government consults and
appraises its policies in respect of the voluntary and community
sector. The Government rests considerable importance on local
and central government implementing the Compact.
22. To underpin the Government's commitments
over the participation of children and young people the Minister
for Young People will shortly be publishing common core principles
for participation of young people to be followed by Government
departments and agencies when developing and delivering services
which affect children. The Government's Children and Young People's
Unit to support this work will publish guidance and it will be
promoting best practice from public authorities and the voluntary
(j) We believe that it would be helpful if
a Public Participation Unit was established in the Cabinet Office
as a single clear focus for public participation across government
23. The Cabinet Office has already developed
such a focus, and is integrating this with its broader effort
on best practice in policy-making and implementation. The team
responsible for the Code of Practice on Written Consultation is
now also responsible for developing the Best Practice website
on consultation questions.
It has also embarked on a programme of activity to bring together
the consultation coordinators required by the Codea single
individual within each department or agency that consults, responsible
for ensuring the Code is complied with, that consultations are
joined up where possible, and that good practice is applied to
consultations, and lessons learned from them. The coordinators'
network offers an opportunity to build expertise and raise consciousness
within central government as a whole in effective participation.
It will be important to ensure that work on electronic and non-electronic
approaches to improving participation is kept closely in step.
(k) We recommend that a connected approach
designed to acquaint people working at all levels of government
with the best current practice can play a useful role. The Office
of the e-Envoy within the Cabinet Office is best placed to take
on this mission, working in close collaboration with Cabinet Office
colleagues promoting public consultation and the positive development
of political participation (paragraph 78).
24. The Office of the e-Envoy is currently developing
proposals for enhancing opportunities for all forms of participation
in the democratic process through the use of the Internet. The
policy proposal is in the form of a draft consultation document
on which we will seek views. The consultation will be wide ranging
and will include not only all levels of government but also elected
representatives, civil society, business and individuals, before
a firm policy is brought forward next year.
25. The driving forces for taking action on
- The decline in participation in traditional democratic
- Higher expectations among citizens to be heard
by policy and decision-makers on more occasions than just on polling
- The evolving digital society that is leading
people to expect to be able to use the Internet to interact with
all service providers including government, at all levels.
26. The aim of the proposed policy will be to
use the Internet to strengthen representative democracy by:
- enhancing opportunities for every citizen to
participate in the democratic process; and
- enable government, parliament and other representative
bodies to seek the views, knowledge and experiences of the people.
27. The objectives of the policy will be to
facilitate, broaden and deepen participation. The policy will
involve action along two separate, but interdependent, tracksElectronic
Public Participation and Electronic Voting. For successful implementation,
the policy must also embrace six key principles: Inclusion; Security;
Responsiveness; Deliberation; Openness; and an e-democracy Charter
providing clear statement of citizen rights and responsibilities.
A number of government departments and other bodies have already
contributed to the production of the document including the Electoral
Commission and the Local Government Association. In developing
the proposals into an agreed policy, OeE will continue to work
in close co-operation and collaboration with a number of stakeholders
within government, particularly DTLR in terms of electronic voting,
as well as the devolved administrations and local government.
(l) We recommend that central government work
closely in partnership with other bodies (such as the Local Government
Association, IdeA and so on) to disseminate information about
good practice, to help authorities avoid 'reinventing the wheel',
and to strengthen the training in participation models available
for staffespecially knowledge of more deliberative methods
28. The Government agrees with the importance
of identifying and disseminating good practice in consultation,
and has in recent years issued or encouraged the production of
a substantial amount of research and guidance on these issues.
For example, the document Modern Local GovernmentGuidance
on enhancing Public Participation, published in 1998, sets
out a large number of principles and best practice examples, which
In addition, a research report published in 2000 about turnout
at local government elections included various best practice examples
on improving voter participation.
Existing structures for learning by example in this way are now
being greatly enhanced with the development of the IdeA Knowledge
29. Central departments and agencies could often
learn, especially at early stages of consulting on a project,
from the best of local government experience, and there may also
be opportunities for local government to profit from the experience
of the centre. The Cabinet Office consultation website
will be enhanced with selected material from local government;
and events will be organised to bring consultation coordinators
in departments in touch with local government counterparts. Local
government has also been active in developing new approaches for
the participation of children and young people in consultation
and decision-making. In July the Local Government Association
and the National Youth Agency (NYA), working with the Government's
Children and Young People's Unit, published "Here by Right",
guidance on setting standards for the active involvement of young
people in democracy.
Local authorities working with the NYA will be promoting the standards
throughout the autumn.
30. More effective participation is essential
to developing better policy and services, to increasing trust
between the citizen and the Government at all levelsand
so to increasing engagement with the process of government among
voters. There has undoubtedly been in progress in recent yearsin
finding better techniques of participation, but even more importantly
instilling the understanding that it is necessary. We need to
learn from the best of what is happening across the United Kingdom
and beyond, develop expertise, harness new technologydiscriminatingly,
where it can make a real contribution to better participation.
The Government welcomes public debate on these issues and believes
the Committee's report will play an important role in furthering
15 OCTOBER 2001
4 www.cabinet-office.gov.uk/servicefirst/consumerfocus/index.htm Back
5 www.local-regions.dtlr.gov.uk Back
6 www.cmps.gov.uk/pronline Back
7 www.lcd.gov.uk/foi/foidpunit.htm Back
8 www.consultation.gov.uk Back
9 http://www.cypu.gov.uk Back
10 www.consultation.gov.uk Back
11 http://www.local-regions.dtlr.gov.uk/beacon/ Back
12 http://www.cgbs.org.uk Back
13 http://www.chartermark.gov.uk Back
14 http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/isb.index.html Back
15 http://www.ippr.org/research/index.php?id=22&category=main Back
16 http://www.local-regions.detr.gov.uk/lgwp/index.htm Back
17 http://www.electoralcommission.gov.uk/ Back
18 http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld199900/ldselect/ldsctech/38/3801.htm Back
19 http://www2.dti.gov.uk/scienceind/report3response.htm Back
20 http://www.parliament.uk/post/nfr/pr153.pdf Back
21 http://www.local.detr.gov.uk/research/particip.htm Back
22 www.consultation.gov.uk Back
23 www.consultation.gov.uk Back
24 http://www.local-regions.dtlr.gov.uk/epplg/index.htm Back
25 http://www.local-regions.dtlr.gov.uk/turnout/index.htm Back
26 http://www.idea.gov.uk/knowledge/index.html Back
27 www.consultation.gov.uk Back
28 http://www.lga.gov.uk Back