Government consultations - do they lead to anything?

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Government consultations - do they lead to anything?

Post by Fishnut » Fri Mar 17, 2023 8:43 pm

I recently found out about a government consultation on pavement parking, something I have an interest in as a pedestrian who's frequently frustrated by pavements being blocked or damaged by vehicles parking on them. The consultation closed in November 2020. The webpage says,
Your call is important to us.jpg
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It's almost 2 1/2 years. I know we've had covid but does it really take over two years to analyse data from a two month consultation? Have the submissions just gone into a government black hole? Or is it normal to wait for years until they get round to reporting on consultations? Is there a deadline after which they say the evidence is outdated and a new consultation is needed?

Does anyone have any insight into how long government consultations take to produce reports and/or recommendations after they've closed? I'm really curious whether they are actually intended to do anything or just supposed to provide cover so if anyone asks about an issue they can just say 'ah, we had a consultation on that and are analysing the data' in the hopes that people will just forget they ever asked.
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Re: Government consultations - do they lead to anything?

Post by JQH » Mon Mar 20, 2023 2:59 pm

I can't think of any public consultation which changed anything.
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Re: Government consultations - do they lead to anything?

Post by IvanV » Mon Mar 20, 2023 3:46 pm

Whilst consultations like Fishnut's cited one occur, on the whole I would say most consultations do lead somewhere. Though it does depend quite what you are including within the category of "government consultations".

Many government measures go through consultation these days, indeed would be required to. For example, bodies with delegated powers like the energy regulator, Ofgem, is pretty much required to go through consultation on the way to implementing new rules, and making decisions. So there are numerous consultations which lead to something, because going through consultation is the only way something happens - at least for those areas of delegated powers. So bodies like Ofgem typically have numerous consultations outstanding at any point, and they nearly all lead to action.

You can argue that, strictly speaking, an Ofgem consultation isn't a "government consultation", because Ofgem is a non-ministerial bodies, and so isn't really the government. But there are many areas of delegated powers where the responsible body is a ministry rather than a non-ministerial body. So they have consultations on their delegated powers, and go somewhere.

But you might say that "government consultations" are those about primary legislation, when the government is consulting on potential primary legislation. In principle, it's a sensible thing to do, to have a consultation about it. The best are those that embark on the quest with a genuinely open mind about what's best to do. But even if you have a framework idea of what you want to do, then often the devil is in the detail, and it is wise to have a consultation to learn about those devils.

In reality, anything can happen.

-A department launches a consultation as a genuine exercise on how best to reform legislation, and then the bill introduced takes account of what they learned from that.

-A department launches a consultation, and then the government launches the bill it always intended to launch, regardless of the mauling it got in consultation. Or some intermediate outcome.

-The government launches a bill in a hurry, without consultation, because Something Must Be Done Right Now. Or they know perfectly well it will be mauled in consultation. This resulting kneejerk legislation is typically poor and needs fixing later.

-The government launches a consultation, and we never hear again about it, like the one Fishnut mentions. Another one was the consultation on bringing in laws on causing death by dangerous cycling, which we never heard again about. It can happen for various reasons. They get mauled by the respondents, and the government finds it too embarrassing to report back on it. Or there's a change of minister who doesn't believe in what they were consulting on. Sometimes the consultation was only ever a piece of performance politics, to make the people who feel strongly about something think the government are on their side, even though they aren't.

-The government launches a consultation, in a spirit of genuine enquiry, gets as far as reporting the results, and then decides it doesn't like the answer and fails to implement it. Or only part implements it. Or there's a new minister with different ideas before they get to implementing it.

I think we have perhaps had a few more consultations that led nowhere in recent times. There is more performance politics about. Or the sensible thing to do costs money, and the government wants to spend less, not more. Or the sensible thing to do is not what the rich want. And then we have had 4 flavours of conservative politics in short order, and the new ministers often have very different ideas about what they want to do from their predecessor.

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Re: Government consultations - do they lead to anything?

Post by Aitch » Mon Mar 20, 2023 4:24 pm

JQH wrote:
Mon Mar 20, 2023 2:59 pm
I can't think of any public consultation which changed anything.
Well, I completed a couple of ONS surveys, which got me £20 and a nice cloth shopping bag. Made a (very) slight change to my life...
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