Thursday, 3 July 2014

What's wrong with consultation papers

This comes from Jon Moulton, via the ever-readable Anthony Hilton. The quotation is about corporate governance, but the problem applies much more widely:

""First of all, you generate lots of lengthy and tough-to-read papers addressing problems which most people could not even care about.

Over time, this ensures that generally only those with a vested interest in the production and implementation of proposals have the will and the depth of knowledge to respond to consultations. Normal people and users are extremely unlikely to respond to consultations.”

This is dangerous, he adds, because it means consultations are no longer an effective communication with potential users. Rather, the respondents are normally people and organisations who owe their existence to [the complexity of whatever it is that the consultation is about].

Anyone who deals with modern professional regulation will recognise this. Once upon a time, so the story goes, the professional rules for barristers amounted to 'wear a tie and don't lie'. No longer. Nowadays page 163 of the Handbook, to take a page at random, tells us, in rule Q134, that: 

"Rule Q133 does not apply:
.1 in the case of a barrister to whom Rule Q131 applies, to any calendar year forming or containing 
part of the period of 3 years referred to in Rule Q131; or
.2 in the case of a barrister to whom Rule Q132 applies, during any pupillage year or during the first 
three calendar years in which the barrister holds a practising certificate.

No doubt various bodies interested in legal regulation would have loads to say about any Bar Standards Board's consultation on whether to amend the time periods in rule Q134. But who else would? No one with any interest in returning to the days of 'wear a tie and don't lie' anyway. As Hilton observes, "It is a feature of organisations that they rarely abolish themselves. When their initial purpose is done, they seldom declare themselves redundant. It is far more likely they will find new things to do."

And just remember - ultimately you are paying for all of these people to generate all of these consultation papers and their responses. I hope it is good value for money.

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