5 September, 2011
According to a recent investigation conducted by Community Care Magazine, one in 10 councils went ahead with their proposed changes to adult care services on the day they finished their consultation period, or in some cases even before that point. In response, commentators and legal specialists have suggested that these councils may have breached equality laws.
The results, published last week, are certainly shocking, but are they surprising? We all know how much box-ticking takes place. Some of the consultation periods run by councils have been as short as two weeks, meaning that there can have been little opportunity to harness the views of a truly representative mix of the local population. Some have justified the swiftness of their decisions by citing tight timescales and stating that it is normal for councils to set budgets in principle, allowing them to be changed after consultation. This misses the mark. Meaningful consultation is about more than asking questions – it’s about taking part in active dialogue, truly listening and responding in order to ensure people feel they have played a real part in the process.
Poor consultation is damaging in so many ways. It undermines credibility, breaks down trust and severs links with the community that are vital for future development and engagement, as well as running the risk of being challenged in the courts. Good consultation isn’t a luxury that only applies when times are good – it’s essential. Now, more than ever, those responsible for providing or funding services must make sure they are taking part in real conversations – not ticking boxes.
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