As part of the Civil Service Reform Plan, with its commitment to improved policy making, the Cabinet Office has published guidance on the consultation principles that government departments and other public bodies should adopt to engage stakeholders in policy and legislative developments.

The guidance, which replaces the rather longer 2008 Code of Practice on Consultation which governed formal written consultations, has at its heart the principle that the type and scale of consultation should be proportionate to the potential impact of the proposal or decision being taken. The emphasis (”when? – with whom? – how?”) is on understanding the effects of a proposal or decision and focusing on real engagement with key groups rather than blindly following bureaucratic process.

Key points to note are:  

  • Consultation is a subset of wider engagement; how best to do the former, in a particular case, will depend on the extent and methods of the latter
  • Consultation may not always be appropriate, but think carefully when smaller, more vulnerable organisations might be affected. The principles of the Compact, between government and the voluntary and community sector, will continue to be respected
  • Use modern communications technology; traditional written consultation may not be the best way of getting the right evidence
  • Engage throughout policy development; different types of engagement may be appropriate at different stages
  • Timeframes (typically between 2 and 12 weeks) should be proportionate and allow sufficient time to provide a considered response
  • Consultation should capture the full range of stakeholders affected

The guidance does not have legal force and will therefore not prevail over statutory or other mandatory consultation requirements. Its effect should begin to be seen from the autumn onwards.