Consultations on the GOV.UK Website

Ruth Hayes. ISG 

The GOV.UK website has established itself as the place to go to find anything and everything relating to a current government administration’s work. It should therefore prove more straightforward for us as library and information professionals (and for our users) to find and comment on the things that concern us that government wishes to do in our name.

The section on Consultations (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications?publication_filter_option=consultations) lists “Publications: all consultations”, most of which at the time of writing (early June 2015) were “first published during the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government”. Here you can “use the filters to show only results that match your interests” – by keyword, publication type, topic, Department, official document status, and whether published before or after particular dates. A very few of the publications date – probably exceptionally – from the 2005 to 2010 Labour government. It is now more usual to find policies and publications from a previous government of different political complexion on The National Archives (TNA) website (http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/adv_search/), which will also be suggested, should you misspell, offer an incomplete spelling or enter keyword(s) not included in the 2,500+ items.

For this article, I looked at a few examples of Open consultations as on the day of the Queen’s Speech of the new Parliament, Wednesday 27 May 2015. Published on that date by the Ministry of Defence was ‘Changes to MOD armed forces personnel statistics’ (https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/changes-to-mod-armed-forces-personnel-statistics). Although I am interested in sources of official statistics, I was more intrigued by the announcement about the consultation process: “This consultation originally ran from 20 March to 16 April 2015. Due to restrictions associated with publishing consultations during the pre-election period, MOD has decided to re-open this consultation from 27 May to 18 June 2015, to allow further time for users to comment”. The document states that this consultation process is in line with the UK Statistics Authority Code of Practice for Official Statistics Protocol 1 (which relates to user engagement; (see: http://www.statisticsauthority.gov.uk/assessment/code-of-practice/index.html); and the Civil Service Consultation Principles (July 2012; replaces the Code of Practice on Consultation, 2008) (https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/255180/Consultation-Principles-Oct-2013.pdf).

The Consultation Principles do stipulate at the start of the section, Practical Considerations, that “Consultation exercises should not generally be launched during local or national election periods.” However, it goes on to state that “If exceptional circumstances make a consultation absolutely necessary (for example, for safeguarding public health), departments should seek advice from the Property and Ethics Team in the Cabinet Office”.

One recent consultation on the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) database, Social Care Online (SCO) (http://www.scie-socialcareonline.org.uk/search) illustrates the “exceptional circumstances” perfectly. ‘Consultation on the implementation of the recommendations, principles and actions set out in the report of the Freedom to Speak Up review’ (Department of Health)

(https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/412171/Freedom_to_Speak_up_consultation.pdf) was first published on 12 March 2015 under the general title ‘Measures to help staff speak out about patient safety’ on GOV.UK (https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/measures-to-help-staff-speak-out-about-patient-safety) . This item follows on from review of recommendations by Sir Robert Francis published on 11 February 2015 (and following on from the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust public inquiry in 2013) “to ensure that we honour the spirit of what Sir Robert has recommended but also avoid unnecessary layers of bureaucracy or financial burden.” In this instance, it was more important to continue with the consultation, and to have a reasonably long period for receiving responses (until 4 June).

Another consultation which has run during the election period has been ‘Creating a secondary annuity market: call for evidence’ (HM Treasury, Department of Work and Pensions; Cm 9046) (https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/creating-a-secondary-annuity-market-call-for-evidence). This was first published 18 March 2015, closing 18 June 2015, and “seeking views on the government’s proposal to remove barriers which currently deter annuity holders from accessing the value of their annuity” – an announcement on which had been made by George Osborne in the 2014 Budget. Also named on the document is Steve Webb who at the time of publication was Minister of Pensions (and an expert on his ministerial brief).

What happens after a consultation has closed? Eventually a “Consultation outcome” is published, such as ‘Explanatory notes for bills: new format: consultation outcome’ (https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/explanatory-notes-for-bills-new-format). The Cabinet Office and the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel published the consultation on this on 21 November 2014. Summarised responses to the consultation were published on 15 May 2015 as ‘Explanatory notes pilot: Office of the Parliamentary Counsel response to consultation’ (https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/427779/explanatory_notes_response_to_consultation_on_pilot.pdf). This topic is certain to be of interest to those of us who try to impart knowledge about the Parliamentary process and how a Bill becomes an Act.

Refer 31 (2) Summer 2015

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