Tuesday, 5 July 2011
The Dark Art of Decepticon-sultation; Wornington prophecy
Virtually every political issue currently under debate – from NHS reform to whether or not Holland Park School should become an academy – is subject to consultation. Yet nearly every one receives criticism about the timing and/or quality of consultation undertaken.
Here is the link to the government’s own criteria for consultation (sorry you will have to copy and paste, links not working):
And here is a summary if you can’t be bothered to read it:
- when to consult
- duration of consultation exercises
- clarity of scope and impact
- accessibility of consultation exercises
- burden of consultation
- responsiveness of consultation exercises
- capacity to consult
Judged by these criteria, most consultations are CONsultations.
There are these crowd-sourcing websites the DeceptiCONS are so fond of [for older readers, Decepticons are the baddies in Transformers]. These have nothing to do with fair consultation. They are very inexact and inscrutable, and results can be manipulated pretty well as you please.
Similarly these so called ‘listening exercises’ are only valid IF they state which bits of the proposals they are prepared to be influenced on. So, demand clarification: DeceptiCONS are cunning.
The government has NOT followed the Code of Practice when they shorten the period of consultation, as they have recently done. They, and local Councils, should always observe best practice and NOT run consultations over Christmas, summer hols, Ramadan, etc, as they are wont to do. Some consultations are subject to ‘conflation’, ie, you tell us why should you keep your funding/YOU decide who should lose funding.
Just occasionally a consultation does appear to tick every box, appear fair and inclusive, and conclude points that would not otherwise have been thought of, and you get a thoroughly-consulted-upon SPD, like that for Wornington Green. Then the project hits the Planning Applications Committee. As at W Green, Commonwealth Institute, and probably more to come, the planning application will not meet the SPD or planning brief criteria, but will squeak through anyway, for reasons we all know but are wise not to enumerate publicly.
So, we also need clarity on the status of these documents. A recent example is the Residents’ Charter for Wornington Green, hard won over two years and countless meetings. What is its status now?
While consultation is ‘normative practice’ and it is not a criminal offence not to consult properly, people need to see due process and fairness. So, if you do not follow best practice you could be open to legal challenge. Recent legal challenges to consultations have been won after being challenged on both substance and process, for example, the challenge to Building Schools for the Future cuts:
- The case was won mainly because there was no public consultation on withdrawing BSF funding
- This case lost on substantive points but won on procedural points
- Where there is a legitimate expectation, there can be a challenge, but this is difficult to prove
- In this case no EIA had been carried out before the decision was made. This was considered to be ‘unlawful’ and Gove denounced as ‘highly unconvincing’ – not a good day for the Sec of State.
Other successful challenges have been due to inadequate or incomplete Equality Impact Assts; decisions taken while the challenge is ongoing are also risking JR; sometimes criteria are changed after Consultation, eg, ‘new information has become available’ ... the Courts look at this v unfavourably; the Council must give ‘due regard’ to equality duties or be open to challenge; if there is just one flaw in an EIA it can be thrown out; if the decision is made before the EIA it can be thrown out; if the Budget has already been decided before the Consultation it can be thrown out.
So all we need now is an army of solicitors (or one with expertise and a lot of time) to challenge the truly appalling quality of consultations that have recently taken place in RBKC. Any offers?
Oh my prophetic soul, look what I was saying last 2 November:
‘Catalyst Housing Group have announced they are to merge with Kensington Housing Trust and Fortunegate, for 'greater efficiency': a bit of management and maintenance wouldn't have gone amiss.
‘Given their abysmal track record as a landlord and the state of their financial affairs this is no surprise to me. I have been monitoring their accounts and quite frankly they are shocking. Catalyst are mortgaged up to their necks and are servicing massive loans of nearly half a billion; they have received three-quarters of a billion in Social Housing Grant. They spend more on interest payments than they do on maintaining stock; they state they need to double their stock in three years to bring in £20m/year profit just to keep going.
‘KHT, a notoriously awful landlord, is selling off street properties (£2.5m/year) to subsidise interest payments. They are totally reliant for survival on Social Housing Grant (£139m 2009/10), which they will see no more of during this government. They have capital commitments of nearly £100m this year, all being paid by Catalyst; what a mess. It seems the April Fools prankster who turned their offices into a ‘crime scene’ had the inside story; we were the fools, for not understanding what it meant.
‘I have no idea what this means for Wornington Green, but frankly I think it unlikely this is the last we will hear of this; this reorganisation will not save enough to put them back in the black.’
The financial mess that Catastrophe by Design has led KHT into, and the sheer arrogance and stupidity of decision-makers at Catalyst parent group, have resulted in a series of very bad decisions, seemingly backed by RBKC.