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Council pledges greater transparency over public consultations

PUBLISHED: 05:27 10 May 2019

Council leader Matthew Hicks stressed that no decisions were made before public consultations were complete. Picture: GREGG BROWN

Council leader Matthew Hicks stressed that no decisions were made before public consultations were complete. Picture: GREGG BROWN

Promises of greater transparency have been made by a council in a bid to counter perceptions that decisions are already made before the public have had their say.

Labour councillor Sarah Adams said she welcomed the charter as some previous public consultations had Labour councillor Sarah Adams said she welcomed the charter as some previous public consultations had "bombed". Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

A new charter by Suffolk County Council proposes to allow more time between the end of a consultation and the final decision being made, and make results easily available for the public.

It comes after criticism over the way some policies, such as the controversial changes in home to school transport last year, were made despite widespread opposition.

Conservative council leader Matthew Hicks said: "Consultation with the public is one of the absolutely key functions we need to prioritise as a council - it has to be meaningful and it has to be worthwhile.

"I find nothing more depressing than people saying the decision has already been made."

Mr Hicks pointed to the planned Citizens Advice cuts as an example of the council listening and changing its approach. That led to the authority spreading cutbacks over two years, instead of one.

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The new charter was presented to the council's scrutiny committee on Thursday, May 9, where the council's communications head Andrew St Ledger said it would allow "people to hold us to account".

But Labour group leader Sarah Adams said that while the charter was to be welcomed, there had been instances where the level of consultation had "bombed".

She added: "The home to school transport issue turned into a right debacle in the eyes of the consultees interested.

"Highways do lots of smaller consultations on specific issues such as Twenty's Plenty where the outcome isn't published - how can we improve that method of consultation?

"I think some of our consultations have been pretty poor and I really think the speech and language [consultation] has bombed."

Concerns were also raised over the short time period between a consultation ending and a decision being made.

It is expected that a webpage on the council's site would also collate the results of consultations, instead of only being published deep inside full council or cabinet papers.

The charter is understood to be in the process of being finalised ahead of the summer.

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