Several readers have commented on public consultations organised by local and national government. The narrow subject parameters and the lack of real information lead some to describe these as a charade.
Many allege that they are ‘managed’ – indeed ‘a sham’. The writer attended DfiD meetings years ago which – by preselecting discussion group leaders and issuing prepared minutes – got the desired result.
A search reveals such allegations: for example over Vauxhall bus station, NHS agency worker price caps, Nuneaton urgent care review, North East Lincolnshire Council future waste management, the M4 relief road and the Ministry of Defence Strategic Defenceand Security Review.
“Consultation is a statutory requirement for councils and developers to which huge resources are devoted, with the rhetoric of community participation at the centre of every development brief. But time and again residents claim that consultations are carried out in name only, with “roadshows” and “exhibitions” by lobbying companies replacing public meetings. ‘You turn up, they tell you what they want to do, you go and they call that consultation’ “. She describes allegations of underhand tactics and dirty tricks subverting democratic processes:
- there have been planning meetings elsewhere packed with actors,
- fake letter-writing campaigns from non-existent supporters of controversial schemes
- and “astro-turfing”: setting up by lobbying companies of apparently grassroots groups in favour of development.
- The writer recently found out by chance that residents closest to a proposed development were just not informed of the consultation – only a few people from further afield attended.
Lesley Docksey writes of another tactic, “Make the questions so hard to understand that only those elements of business that support the government position will be able to answer them”. She gives a case history:
With just three days to go before the closing date, the Guardian alerted me to a DECC consultation on Feed in Tariffs (FITs) for solar energy. The government wants to reduce subsidies for solar energy by a massive 87%. Let people pay for it themselves while taxpayers’ money goes into nuclear and fracking seems to be their position.
Question 5 asked this:
“Do you agree or disagree that the updated assumptions produced by Parsons Brinckerhoff are reflective of the current costs of deployment for UK projects in your sector? If you disagree, please set out how they differ and provide documented evidence, such as invoices and/or contractual agreements to support this evidence. Please also mark this evidence as commercially sensitive where appropriate.”
This and the following questions are aimed solely at industry. Has it escaped your notice that this “econsultation” is taking place on Citizen Space and should therefore take account of the voices of the citizens as well as business? Or are the technical questions there to frighten us off? For 15 of the following questions I answered “Comment as Question 5.”
Then I came to Question 30:
Do you agree or disagree that we should introduce a cap on the amount of overseas generated renewable electricity that can be exempt from the costs of the scheme? Do you agree that the cap for 2016/17 should be calculated based on the number of GoOs recognised in 2013/14, increased by 10% twice to match the cap under the CFD Supplier Obligation?
To “Comment as Question 5” I added “This is sheer gobbledygook for the average person in “Citizen Space”.
Well, could you understand any of it? Or do you, as I did, get the feeling they really don’t want our answers? That would interfere with what they have already decided to do.
The answers MPs and MEPs come up with are even worse. Consider this from Ashley Fox, Conservative MEP for the West Country:
“The regulation regarding all derivative products, including commodities is being driven globally by the G20 objectives to reduce risk through increased transparency and use of central clearing. The EU is implementing these measures via the European Markets Infrastructure Regulation. The future trading of these financial instruments on electronic platforms as opposed to bilateral contracts will be addressed in the Markets in Financial Instruments Directive II and any abusive behaviour by market participants is covered under the Markets Abuse Directive Review. It is important that position limits are used as part of a wider tool box available to market supervisors in order to ensure the proper functioning of the market…” and so on.
Did you understand that? Did the MEPs understand it?
Conservative MEP Julie Girling produced exactly the same reply. The paragraphs were in a different order, and she admitted it had actually been drafted by Kay Swinburn, Conservative MEP for Wales. They needed a standard reply because so very many people had emailed their MEPs about this. Shouldn’t that have told them something?
What we are witnessing is the abject failure of democracy at local level
Anna Minton sets the context: “Building on Conservative thinking about localism and “open source planning”, the coalition agreement pledged to instigate “a fundamental shift of power from Westminster to people”, in order to promote “democratic engagement”. Instead what we are witnessing is the abject failure of democracy at local level”.
Lesley Docksey continues, “In contrast, because Corbyn and his team think the public should be consulted, and because I have a rural post code, I was asked to take part in a consultation about rural life. The questions were all about how I perceived the issues and problems in rural areas. In other words, tell us how it is, we will listen and then, with your help, work out the policies needed.
“It is this that Joe Public picks up on. He (or she) may or may not join the Labour Party but… despite the sneering and backstabbing, and the plans to oust Corbyn, the kind of politics he is offering takes the public seriously. Our opinions, the people’s opinions, aims and desires matter. And it really is about time the Parliamentary Labour Party recognised that.
The accounts of the proposal to build an incinerator at Javelin Park in Gloucestershire have attracted many readers to this site.
To date the news is that the application was unanimously refused by Gloucestershire County Council‘s planning committee which spent a whole day debating it.
There are some reports that Urbaser Balfour Beatty (UBB) is ‘minded to appeal’ but Javier Peiro, its Project Director, said: “UBB is disappointed by the decision made by Gloucestershire’s Planning Committee today. UBB remains contracted to dispose of Gloucestershire’s residual waste and in light of this decision we are considering our options”.
If an appeal is made, Communities Secretary Eric Pickles will appoint a planning inspector to look at the application in greater detail and advise Mr Pickles on whether to support or overturn the refusal decision.
Local journalist Chris Warne summarises:
“The Javelin Park development was perhaps a grave miscalculation by the county council – seeking to impose a mass burn incinerator on a district like Stroud, with its proud tradition of protest and progressive thinking, especially on green issues.
“But if (Eric Pickles) truly believes in localism, he will respect the views of the parish, town, district and borough councils and more than 4,000 residents who expressed opposition to the scheme”.