Readers of my previous notes of the “consultation” exercises undertaken by the coalition government will readily appreciate that I am not the best person to write about a further symbolic consultation, being lead by DCLG, on what it terms “burdens” (indeed, such is the normalised use of this expression that the email address to respond to this consultation is pejoratively: firstname.lastname@example.org) as part of the “direction of travel” to decentralisation (dontchajustlove those euphemisms). It transpires that “burdens” refers to every single statutory duty affecting local government, including those imposed by SI and guidance. So far, 1294 such duties have been identified by DCLG – I feel for the poor civil servant who put together that list. Consultees are asked (I think, it’s not exactly clear) to identify new duties and say whether they think that any of the identified duties are vital or should otherwise be retained (the web form, on which see below, asks for general observations as well). Pink Tape has done a brilliant, excoriating comment on the “burdens” identified regarding social care (which the government has, in any event, asked the Law Commission to consider).
So, let’s look at the housing “burdens” identified. Well, let’s not actually, because it’s an entirely mindless, pointless exercise. What are they going to do with the responses? Are they going to put together a regulatory reform order to (say) get rid of the homelessness, allocations, land compensation act or HHSRS duties. Some might regard that as unconstitutional, particularly after (um) respondents to the recent flurry of consultation papers around the housing parts of the Localism Bill were in favour of the retention of the reasonable preference categories and nobody is questioning the need for statutory duties in any of these; and, in any event, the Localism Bill is going to result in the creation of more, not less, “burdens” (which are, of course, not identified as it’s just a Bill). Feel free to have a laugh at that poor civil servant’s expense by looking at the identified list of housing duties (it’s the first document on the list to download at the bottom of the page – I’ll leave it to you to decide whether DCLG can be said to have got a handle on the complex s 193 duties currently in existence).
Then there’s the problem of how to respond. There’s a web response form (on the top right of the “burdens” page) that links to a surveymonkey site (which rather speaks for itself [although survey monkey is a good tool in its own right, so no disrespect to them]). Be prepared, though: if you want to comment on more than one duty, you need to have the code to hand from the identified list for each one. This sent some of the NL team off into discussing things on our email list, like “scripts”, which, frankly, are beyond me, despite Francis’ helpful, simple version for my benefit. I think the view was that a script might not work, but it was over my head anyway. Furthermore, if you want to comment on a specific duty and make general observations and identify a further duty not on the list, you have to fill out new forms which some may feel a little, um, burdensome. Perhaps a slow-track trainee designed the survey monkey response form.
But why help DCLG anyway? Surely they should know what housing duties are imposed on local authorities (and we might quibble a little on what we mean by “duty” but not here anyway). What does it say about them if they don’t? The explanations given in the laughable consultation paper is that no list has ever been created, some housing duties are cross-cutting (eg HB), and there are lots of statutes and SIs. What does it say about the processes and mentality of government that they should engage in this kind of consultation at a time when they say they are reducing waste?
If you do decide to contribute, bear in mind that DCLG itself says that this is a “long-term review programme”. The purpose of this consultation exercise, we find out (finally) is: “… by the end of this exercise we will have a more comprehensive picture of what the ‘asks’ of local authorities are and thus develop a more informed view of those areas where these duties may no longer be required”. Give me strength.