‘Engagement’ and why we do it
Leicestershire County Council makes decisions on a daily basis. Many of its decisions are routine in nature and do not materially affect local people. However, some changes to council policies or services have the potential to have significant impacts on people’s lives. It will frequently be appropriate for the council to engage with local people and groups to better understand their circumstances and their views before making decisions.
The council recognises that engagement offers a number of benefits:
- It promotes transparency about the council’s decisions
- It facilitates trust; and
- It shows respect for the people that the council serves
- It helps the council to be responsive and to make fair decisions
- It facilitates the making of informed decisions
What’s the difference between ‘engagement’ and ‘consultation’?
Consultation is one form of engagement. However, for the purposes of this guidance it is sensible to distinguish what we mean by engagement in a broad sense and consultation in particular. Engagement does not start and end when a particular decision is made. Engagement is an ongoing process which helps the council to learn, share information and ideas and to evolve.
However, consultations are typically focussed on particular decisions or changes which the council is proposing or considering. Consultations tend to be quite formal. There are rules regarding consultations which the Council must follow to ensure that the dialogue with stakeholders is meaningful and to ensure that the council is not subject to legal challenge. Consultations are time-limited forms of engagement.
Does the council always consult on changes to policies or changes to services?
No. Unfortunately, it is simply not practical for the council to consult before making every decision. Consulting before making every decision would paralyse the council’s operations and it would be disproportionately expensive. There is no general legal duty on public bodies to consult with potentially affected persons before making each and every decision.
However, public bodies are legally required to consult with affected persons in limited situations. This includes where consultation is required by legislation, where public bodies have a practice of consulting, where the public body promises to consult or where it would be conspicuously unfair not to consult.
Although the council often undertakes consultation exercises, it does not have a history of consulting in advance of every decision. Nor can the council promise to consult in advance of all future decisions. The need for consultation is considered on a case by case basis.
However, the council’s preference is not merely to consult when it is legally obligated to do so. Consistent with the need for efficient government, the council would expect to consult when it’s officers are satisfied that it is reasonable, appropriate and proportionate.
Factors which tend to support the need for a consultation may include:
- Where the council is making a significant policy change which adversely affects many local people
- Where the council is proposing to remove a vital service which is relied upon
- Where the proposed change is likely to affect vulnerable persons or persons with protected characteristics
Engaging for the future
Leicestershire County Council has a strong record of engaging with communities on our services and strategies. However, the Covid-19 pandemic has brought engagement into focus for councils across the country as both local authorities and citizens have faced new situations.
Recognising the challenges ahead, the council aims to improve our engagement in the following ways:
- Closing the Loop: Ensuring that we communicate back how local people’s ideas have influenced the final decision made
- Using a wider range of methods: We have a wide range of approaches available and we must use these to ensure that our engagement is maximally insightful, inclusive and robust.
- Engaging marginalised communities: Some members of local communities may struggle to engage with the council and our approach must enable participation from groups including older people, children and adolescents, those with protected characteristics, and rural communities.
- Reinforcing best practice: Training and support is available within the council to ensure that we follow national standards of best practice in all the engagement work we do.
Our engagement principles
The council believes that being Inclusive, Transparent and Meaningful is fundamental to doing good consultation. To reflect the council’s commitment to excellence, the council has recently signed up to the Consultation Charter. This was created by the Consultation Institute , the UK’s national body for consultation, and it sets out the most important principles and behaviours for good consultation. The Charter will be used to train council officers and provides public standards to which the council’s consultation and engagement work can be held.
The seven principles in the Charter are:
- Fair Interpretation
Read the Charter to find out more about our principles:
You can find out more about our engagement principles:
Engagement - a work in progress
It is likely that the communities the council serves and how the council operates will continue to change at pace over the coming years.