Express & Star comment: Consultations that ignore results are pointless and divisive
Consultations have become a favoured tool of our public bodies, particularly when they want to prove they have people’s interests at heart.
When local authorities are considering changing the frequency of bin collections, they put it out to consultation.
It is the same when plans for school mergers, library closures and a myriad of other issues are on the table. Yet while consultations enable the public to have their say on all manner of crucial issues, often the results are not worth the paper they are printed on.
Such is the case with Dudley Council’s recent consultation over a council tax increase in the borough.
Of almost 1,400 respondents, 78 per cent said they were against raising the tax by 4.5 per cent.
- Like it or not – Large Dudley council tax rise on way despite survey result
The Conservative-run authority’s response has been to press ahead with the hike regardless, rendering the whole process a waste of time.
It also makes a pledge made at the launch of the consultation to ‘listen to taxpayers’ sound faintly ridiculous.
Many taxpayers in the town will undoubtedly be scratching their heads and wondering what was the point of holding a consultation in the first place.
On certain issues, consultations are a statutory requirement, and so must be held by law.
But these days we are regularly presented with instances of public bodies pressing ahead with their original plans, no matter what the public say.
We understand that Dudley Council, like many other local authorities, is strapped for cash after years of budget cuts. It is also true to say that rules governing the maximum council tax increase allowed by the Government have been relaxed since the start of the consultation.
But all local authorities should be wary of ignoring the views of taxpayers.
Every council has a duty to listen to voters. Bosses must be transparent about their plans at all times.
Consultation can be an excellent tool of governance when properly used.
It is crucial in terms of building consensus and makes people feel they are counted when it comes to policymaking.
But when the results are ignored, then it becomes pointless and divisive.
When our town halls seek the views of the public, the very least they can do is give serious consideration to any response.