1. Consultation Process
Defence Estates has been consulting with non-government
organisations representing the public on the drafting of both
the Estate Strategy and the Strategic Environmental
Appraisal. These documents were commitments in the Strategic
Defence Review (SDR).
At the time of the SDR, a number of voluntary
sector organisations approached the Department making representations
about our management of the rural estate, and in particular requesting
a wide ranging review of our rural landholdings. As a result,
MOD agreed to produce a rural estate strategy (which subsequently
became part of a wider estate strategy). These organisations formed
the core of a group we continued to consult with during the drafting
of the estate strategy.
From this large group we formed a small "working
group" of organisations which we (and they) believed could
represent the broad range of external stakeholding interests.
This working group met monthly over a period of about a year during
the drafting of the rural parts of the strategy. In general, they
made useful and valuable inputs to the process.
Conferences at which a wider range of bodies
could be present were also organised.
The process was extended to apply to the Strategic
Environmental Appraisal of the SDR programme. This separate project
covered a number of environmental topics. Confidentiality issues
inhibited the Department from engaging the voluntary sector as
closely as we and they would have liked. Nevertheless, the Department
was able to inform the voluntary sector of our approach to the
subject and we received valuable advice.
2. Ways in which decision-making processes
have been adapted to take account of public participation
See above. The adaptation of the decision-making
process was considerable.
3. Lessons learned regarding good (and bad)
practice in consultation
The consultation process meant that
key national voluntary sector bodies made a significant input
into the drafting process at working level.
They had a very deep specialist knowledge
in certain areas, which we were able to draw on.
They represented a large constituency.
There was a significant amount of
buy-in from organisations which had hitherto been extremely sceptical
of the department's use and management of its rural land.
There was a reduced level of confrontation
and increased confidence; we could both understand each other's
positions much better.
Being part of the process meant they
were less likely to criticise the end product.
The product itself was undoubtedly
better than it would have been if we had not consulted as widely
as we did.
The extent of redrafting was reduced
because we took on external stakeholders direct views at the start;
ie we had a better chance of getting it right first time.
It was significant cultural adjustment
for the Department to sit down with organisations which had previously
been seen as hostile to our use of rural land (the work came hard
on the heels of the difficult Otterburn public enquiry).
"Confidentiality" was a
particular issue. The voluntary sector did not always treat the
information we gave them appropriately, and often over-reacted
to our entreaties to handle them with care and sensitivity.
Some of the voluntary sector organisations
were small and lacked the resources needed for the staff work
that inevitably arose.
There were risks that a small core
group was not representative of the very wide spectrum of views
which existed in the wider community.
Other Government Departments and
Agencies were initially uncertain about this consultative process.
It was difficult to define the role
of the voluntary sector. Initially the Department focused on providing
information but as the process developed we were able to engage
in a debate.
The voluntary sector does not have
a clear hierarchy and their national HQs may not always fully
represent the views of members on the ground. It was often unclear
who represented what.
It took a lot of time and effort.
Overall the process was undoutedly beneficial
and we continue to work with the voluntary sector as well as other
government departments and agencies in respect of both projects.