Though hardly publicised or reported at the time, on 22 July 2008 the Government published a new Code of Practice on Consultation (New Code). Up to October 2008, the New Code had not appeared on the Cabinet Office website and the BERR website still contains links to the 2004 Code.
The New Code follows on from the June 2007 Cabinet Office consultation on the 2004 Code of Practice on Consultation (entitled Effective Consultation) upon which the Cabinet Office published the Government response in December 2007. The New Code sets out 7 consultation criteria (as opposed to the 6 in the 2004 Code) which are very similar to the old criteria although there is now separate reference to the burden of consultation. The minimum 12 weeks consultation period remains as do the requirements to consult early, clarity of purpose behind the consultation, &c. The most obvious differences/additions in the New Code are as follows:
1 Specific reference to consultation exercises not being launched during election periods although, a consultation which is ongoing at the time an election is called should continue;
2 A ‘consultation stage Impact Assessment’ should normally accompany a formal consultation setting out the estimated costs and benefits of the policy options;
3 A standard table of basic information should be used for all consultation exercises- this will enable people to check if a consultation is relevant to them. An example template will be provided in the guidance to the New Code to be issued by the BRE (Better Regulation Executive) in November; and
4 In order to reduce the burden of consultation, consideration should be given to whether a formal consultation is necessary or whether the information sought is already available and whether alternative forms of engagement may be better suitable.
The New Code will apply from November 2008 to all central Government departments’ formal, written consultation exercises. Other public sector organisations are invited to sign up to the New Code. It is indicated that a list of organisations adopting the New Code will be published in November and that supporting guidance referred to in the New Code to be prepared by BRE will also become available that month.