Memorandum by the Ministry of Agriculture
Fisheries and Food
INNOVATIONS IN PUBLIC PARTICIPATION AND CONSULTATION
1. Much of the Ministry's public participation
and consultation over the last three years has been by the traditional
method of publication followed by written replies. However, in
the wake of the Modernising Government White Paper, the need to
develop strategies, to involve stakeholders in the policy making
process and to ensure that services are responsive to the needs
of the customer, has been recognised and action taken. Below are
examples of how the Ministry is exploring and implementing new
methods of participation and consultation.
2. A key example of an innovative approach is
what has come to be called the Red Tape Review. Essentially in
September 1999 the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
asked the agriculture industry to let him know of areas where
bureaucracy and regulation were seen or felt to be overburdensome.
With the customers having identified the areas which concerned
them most, the Minister then appointed chairmen and working groups
to investigate the problems. All the individuals were from the
industry and selected for their expertise and experience. The
groups were supported by a secretariat of officials and were asked
to root out unnecessary burdens and find a way of doing things
better. They had a completely free hand to consult who and on
what they wanted. Three reports were published, as were the Government
responses (copies of the three reports and accompanying responses
can be accessed through the "Forms and Regulations"
section on the MAFFWEB. Hard copies are also available in the
3. These new "consumer-led reviews"
involved identification of the issues by the customer and exploration
of the issues by individuals from the industry. They were given
the necessary secretariat support and both the recommendations
to the Minister and his responses were made public.
4. The booklet Food Sense on GM food was
first published in the mid 1990s and it was decided to redraft
it to take account of the large increase in public interest and
concern related to this issue. Following internal redrafting and
updating, use was made of the People's Panel and of Focus Groups
(via MORI) to improve the "user friendliness" of the
booklet and to ensure it addressed the full range of consumer
5. Over the last two to three years, the
working practices of the Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and
Processes have become more open, in that minutes of the meetings
and most of the committee papers are now published on the Internet
(previously only very brief reports of the decisions reached were
made public). In December 1999, new procedures were introduced
that will mean that any applications to the UK to consider approval
of a novel food or process will be placed in the public domain.
The full dossier submitted will be placed on the Internet (minus
any sections that are agreed to contain commercially sensitive
information) and there will be an opportunity for the public to
make comments, which will then be available to the Committee when
it considers the application. The draft Committee opinion will
also be placed on the Internet before finalisation and public
comment again will be invited.
6. This will allow much wider public access
to the safety data submitted in support of an application for
approval of a novel food and will allow the public to participate
in the decision-making process. However, because of the time deadlines
set in the EC legislation governing approval of novel foods, such
information can only realistically be proved electronically via
7. Following recommendations by the House
of Commons Agriculture Committee, targets were developed for the
flood defence operating authorities (ie Environmental Agency,
Internal Drainage Boards and Local Authorities) to help provide
a more certain delivery of the Government's policy aims and objectives.
The targets were drawn up in very close consultation with the
operating authorities and other interested parties, including
bodies such as English Nature and environmental NGOs. It was considered
essential that targets should have the support of all relevant
8. A further example of the use of innovative
approaches to consultation relates to the negotiations for, and
implementation of Agenda 2000, which is the framework for the
development of the European Union and its policies beyond the
turn of the century. As well as using the traditional written
consultation process a number of less widely used techniques were
used to inform the debate on the proposals on agriculture and
rural development which formed an important part of Agenda 2000,
and on plans for implementing these plans in the UK.
9. At the launch of the whole process in
January 1999 the Ministry convened a conference of about 2,000
delegates from interested parties to explain the issues and invite
views. As a follow up to this a series of regional public consultation
meetings were held and were attended by Ministers and/or HQ policy
officials etc. The consultation documents were accompanied by
relevant economic information which was provided to help inform
the debate. In addition to this a tickbox questionnaire on the
key issues was sent to every farmer during the Agenda negotiations.
Joined up Government
10. The need for a "joined up Government"
approach is also recognised and has been used to good effect as
part of the consultation process on the Rural Development Plan.
For example before the various Chapters were placed on the Government
Office website to gather views and comments, focus groups were
set up to consider the issues. The groups were made up of officials
from various Government Departments and enabled a broad based
document to be produced covering all rural issues not just agriculture.
Use of Fora
11. The use of specific fora is also a recent
development. For example the Ministry has set up a TB (tuberculosis)
Forum comprising representatives from the main farming, veterinary
and conservation organisations. It has been established to consider
new measures which might be taken to control TB in cattle.
12. There has also been a rapid increase
in use of e-technology. For example the Ministry has built up
a comprehensive TB website which has a response facility which
allows people visiting the site to make comment. At present there
is little to indicate an extensive use of on-line debates or other
more sophisticated electronic forums but consultation documents
are now widely available on the Internet as well as in hard copy
13. All the above innovate approaches to
consultation have, in varying degrees, influenced our decision
making processes. With better informed debate, more involvement
from stakeholders, more openness and greater feedback the decisions
taken are more likely to be outcome-focused, evidence-based and
forward-looking. More particularly since mid 1998 it has become
the practice that all consultations are accompanied by a draft
Regulatory Impact Assessment which helps draw out the benefits
and burdens as well as risks associated with any new policy or
lack of it.
14. There are a number of lessons to be learned.
In practice the time allowed for consultation is often shorter
than those being consulted would wish. For example the Ministry
has allowed four months for the industry to comment in relation
to the review of the Agricultural Wages Board but some views indicate
that this period is not enough. The period should not be an arbitrary
one but should wherever possible reflect the level and range of
consultation necessary to involve all interested parties.
Use of e-technology
15. Although the use of e-technology can
be of great benefit in terms of reaching people quickly etc, there
are some negative aspects. For example we must take steps not
to alienate those without access to the Internet, and to ensure
that responses are truly representativeindividuals need
to be targeted to ensure good and appropriate levels of response.
16. Following the White Paper it is our
intention to develop the "consumer focus" arrangements
which will involve establishing systems to effectively measure
customer satisfaction; looking at ways of consulting customers
and targeting action following feedback; and ensuring the process
is transparent enough for customers to judge how service delivery
17. In addition the Ministry also has a
"consumer champion" who will have responsibility for
ensuring that customers' views are translated into practical improvements
to services; and that changes made to services have real meaning
and impact and that they are part of a long term strategy of improvement.
18. Best practice in consultation/participation
will be promulgated from the centre and will build on work already
done on the promotion of good policy making techniques. This earlier
initiative followed the Cabinet Office study "Policy Making
for the 21st Century" published in September 1999.
Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food