Waste sector sounds alarm over consultation 'chop'
Waste policy advisors have expressed concern and bafflement at the Government's intention to slash its consultation periods to as little as two weeks.
Under plans announced by the Cabinet Office last week, as of this Autumn, government consultation periods will vary between two and 12 weeks depending upon the complexity of the topic. Currently, the timeframe for formal responses runs automatically for a minimum of 12 weeks.
One leading figure, Resource Association chief executive Ray Georgeson, warned that shrinking the timeframe stakeholders could respond to important legislative and policy issues could lead to an "X Factor style consultation process".
"I think that's a step too far - even in the fast-paced world of social media and communications," he told edie, adding that he was "genuinely baffled" at the Government's rationale for changing its code of practice.
"Two weeks seems absurd to me - that's the length of a standard holiday. What if something big happens in Defra circles when I'm away on my hols?"
Echoing this view, AEA's waste practice director Dr Adam Read said it could lead to a "dumbing down" of the engagement process. Speaking to edie, he pointed out that many consultation documents, particularly those relevant to the waste sector, can run over 100 pages.
"If you look at the Government's Waste Strategy that had 80 questions to be answered - how are you meant to answer all those in two weeks, on top of your day job?" he argued.
Dr Read added that a tight timeframe would leave many member organisations vulnerable.
"Trade and industry bodies will find this almost impossible to deal with unless they are given prior warning," he said, admitting that technical committees would be under greater pressure to submit official responses without properly consulting members.
The Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM) has already voiced its concern over the proposals. In a statement it said that for representative organisations like CIWM "it would not be reasonable to expect a member response in a two week period".
It also flagged up grievances over the Government's view that in some cases, there would be no requirement for consultation if interested groups have been engaged in the policy making process.
"As a multi-sector representative body, CIWM could have an interest in many issues under discussion and there is a danger that bodies such as ourselves may be excluded altogether if there is no consultation period, or one so restricted that responses cannot be prepared and delivered," the statement read.
However one observer, 360 Environmental director Phil Conran, felt shortened consultation timeframes could prove a positive move "as long as they weren't abused".
He told edie that ministers needed to build in flexibility for more complex consultations in a fair and reasonable way. But he added he was "quite cynical" about the consultation process in general and felt that responses were often ignored.