If you consult the public, having already made up your mind, you break one of the key principles of The Art of Consultation, for ‘Integrity’ demands that you are open to being influenced.
The row over Professor Nutt illustrates how difficult it can sometimes be to apply this rule. No doubt the Home Secretary (the ‘consultor’ in this case) would claim to be open to advice on many aspects of the problem from its own Advisory Committee (or consultee), but quite correctly asserts for himself the final decision on any specific policy aspect. That is exactly how consultation works.
The problem is that the Professor says that the decision had already been taken, and quotes the Prime Minister to prove the point. If that is indeed the case, then clearly no valid consultation can happen. But is there, I wonder a grey area where politicians feel the need to state a firm policy, whilst still being open to persuasion? Might the Committee’s work still be valuable in stating an alternative view?
If all the Government’s Advisory Committees were sacked this morning just because there was a firm policy which was not quite in line with their thinking, we would see a significant contribution to our looming public expenditure cuts! It won’t happen but we could do with a better understanding of how to consult the scientific community
Rhion H Jones
The Art of Consultation is published by Biteback Publications on 16 Nov