The One Consultation Which Really Matters

At a time when finances are stretched, here’s a novel (some might say patently obvious) idea. Why don’t the powers that be scrap the endless expensive, time consuming and often pointless consultations which these days public bodies seem duty bound to run before they can carry out the most trivial of changes to their working practices.

Last week the West Midland Police and Crime Commissioner, Labour’s Bob Jones, announced that Edgbaston Police Station will close. That’s an important decision for the ward I represent, but it was made without the local Councillors and residents even being told – let alone consulted about it.

However at the same time, the Police Commissioner announced that what happens next (ie. where the Edgbaston Police team are going to be based) WILL be the subject of a (presumably long and detailed) consultation,  while the important decision –  the fact that our police station, with it’s front desk open to the public and its reassuring presence in the community,  is definitely closing – has already been made.

It is always the same. Remember the infamous Post Office closures consultation. The Post Office worked its way around the country, announcing which branches in each given area were to close, and then consulting about it.  It must have cost a fortune, but with very, very few exceptions, the offices which were announced for closure at the start of the consultation, were the ones which did indeed close.

In Birmingham, the Labour Council is currently carrying out a doubtless costly consulation on the introduction of wheelie bins – but only after they have already announced that they are absolutely definitely introducing them.

As Chairman of Birmingham’s Health Scrutiny Committee from 2004-2012, I was Chairman of a committee monitoring endless NHS consultations – but again, in nearly all cases, I was left with the impression that the NHS Trusts knew exactly what they wanted to do, and the consultation was little more than an exercise in justifying it.

NHS consultations, we were told, were almost always done for “clinical reasons” or for “patient safety” – to which I used to reply, “Are you suggesting then, that the way you are running the service at the moment is not safe?”

They invariably also went to great pains to add that the changes were not being done for financial reasons – oh no! Perish the thought! Let’s just say, I didn’t always believe them.

These long drawn out consultations, about the minutiae of how a change will be carried out, after the important decision (usually to close something) has already been made, must be costing the country millions, at a time it can ill afford it. (And it was pretty stupid even when we could.)

The one consultation which really matters is at the ballot box. If Governments or Councils do things which residents don’t like – vote them out of office. It’s called democracy.

If we all concentrated on that, instead of being fobbed off with the notion that we’ve played an important part in a decision which was made before we were even told about it – just because we can say if we want a small wheelie bin or a large one,  – when actually we don’t want a wheelie bin at all; or if a medical facility should in future be based at Hospital A or Hospital B when currently it is at both and that’s how we’d like it to stay; etc. etc. etc. it might actually have an interesting side effect. It might increase voter turn out.


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