To consider the attached presentation on consultation and engagement.
4.1 Adam Barnes, Head of Communications, presented this item. Members noted the following points:
· Engagement and consultation were two complementary processes but were very different in terms of their legal standing. Engagement was more about developing thinking and ideas, whereas consultation was a formal process to provide data to help inform decision makers.
· There were 4 main circumstances where a duty to consult may arise which included a legal requirement (e.g., the planning process) and where obvious unfairness would result if not carried out.
· The Gunning principles outline 4 key requirements against which a legal challenge would be assessed . In addition, the Chartered Institute for Consultation outline 7 best practise principles to follow when carrying out public consultation.
· GCC used a multichannel approach, tailored to the specific stakeholders group/s, to raising awareness of consultations such as: local media, multiple social media platforms, an E-newsletter portal, as well as more traditional methods such as library advertisement, face to face meetings and letters.
· GCC is a member of The Consultation Institute where advice and support could be sought on any consultation to ensure the right approach was being taken.
· There was currently a review underway of the Charter between GCC and Town and Parish Councils – a key area of development here was to extend its reach to those areas in Gloucestershire which were unparished, linking in instead with key local organisations to help improve engagement and response rates.
· GCC would also be adopting the Local Government Association’s guide to engagement which offered more support in terms of case law, guides, templates, and future thinking to continue to improve the Council’s approach and processes.
· Ideas from members were welcome on how GCC could better communicate and raise awareness within their communities. Some engagement would be carried out in the coming months.
4.2 A member raised concern that a lot of GCC’s consultation could not be said to be carried out at a formative stage of the decision-making process. Although strictly speaking the decision had not been made, it was unlikely much, if anything, would change as a result of the consultation and the Council should consider doing some consultations earlier. An example was given of the Council budget.
4.3 In relation to integrity and disclosure, a member felt that the consultation questions were not always as open as they should be, and often did not raise the issues residents actually wanted to engage on. Questions could also be very leading, rather than asking residents to give their opinion on different options, for example, ‘do you think it’s a good idea we plan to spend money on X’, rather than asking ‘what do you think we should spend money on’.
4.4 Officers recognised that this could not be disputed at times, but there were also times where consultation was very good and maybe these examples were less visible. The feedback was helpful and noted for further development.
4.5 Another member supported comments that the general public perception of most consultation was the decision had already been made and it was difficult for councillors to encourage participation. It was asked whether there were any examples of a consultation which had led to a change which could be shared with residents who had this view.
4.6 The comment was understood and noted to take away, but it was highlighted that consultation was one element of the decision-making process and therefore there was not always a clear link. It was confirmed that the new website would bring much better accessibility for residents on different devices, acknowledging that most would want to engage via their mobile phones.
4.7 Noting that one of the Public Participation Task Group’s recommendations was to carry out a review of the Consultation process, and that no process to date had been established, a member asked when this would be happening. It was advised that Officers felt that as the council was only now beginning implementation of a new approach to consultation and engagement it would be more appropriate to engage members on matters that would help embed the new approach and what support and tools might help them in their efforts to raise awareness of GCC activity in their divisions..
ACTION: Adam Barnes
4.8 A Member asked whether it was possible to target specific groups on consultation to ensure those most affected, for example, had their chance to engage. Members noted there were a variety of ways to engage with specific groups, and this would be taken on a case-by-case basis. Social media could target on a number of areas for example, ‘Next Door’ could target specific geographical areas. The Council would also work with different organisations/services where it was important to engage with a particular customer or client group. During Covid there was more use of ‘on the ground’ engagement to those who did not have access to technology.
4.9 It was raised that technology issues can sometimes be a barrier for people completing consultation exercises. Officers agreed to explore whether they can see responses that were ‘in process’ and had potentially been abandoned due to technical issues.