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Consultation Responses - Management Guidance

Information on the consultation response process.

Powers to approve and send responses

If the council is asked to respond to a consultation then it is for the appropriate Head of Service to ascertain if a response should be sent at all, in consultation with the relevant Executive Councillor. Not all consultations need be responded to. There may be no need for any response to those which are not relevant or of significance to the council's business.

Any response must be agreed and approved by the council, either by committee or by an officer with a delegated power to do so.

Responses on policy issues or on matters which substantially affect the council's business or interests can only be made with authority of full council or a committee with appropriate powers.

Responses on operational, management or technical issues which have no policy element and which do not substantially affect the council's business or interests may be submitted by officers. It is open to officers to elect not to use a delegated power and so approval through committee is an option always available if desired.

PDSPs are not committees, so PDSPs cannot approve a response or authorise an officer to send a response.

On occasion, the holder of a particular senior and statutory post may be asked to respond or should respond separately from the council, e.g., the four "statutory officers" (Finance Officer, Monitoring Officer, Chief Social Work Officer, Head of Paid Service); the Returning Officer. If so, then they are entitled to respond without having the response being set by the council, unless policy matters are involved.

Deciding whether a response is required

It is the responsibility of Heads of Service to inform the relevant Executive Councillor of a consultation on the working day after it commences. The decision as to whether or not a response is to be developed and sent is for the Head of Service to take after consulting the Executive Councillor.

If it is decided that no response is needed then no further action is required.

It is however always open to members to decide that a response should be sent and what it should be, through a motion to a committee or to full council.

Response by officers

Where a response may be submitted by officers under delegated powers, no reference to PDSP or committee is required. It is for the Head of Service to inform and consult the relevant Executive Councillor about the proposed response when it is drafted, and then finalise and submit it after that consultation. Once submitted, the response is in the public domain and copies may be provided on request by anyone.

Response through committee

Consultations which need committee approval require to go to PDSP before going to committee for decision. A report is required for the PDSP explaining the background and attaching the draft response. The consultation request may be attached or a hyperlink to it included, as appropriate. The PDSP report should make it clear the draft response, adjusted after the PDSP discussion if appropriate, will proceed to committee for approval with the PDSP's members' views included in the committee report.

The committee report would follow the same process as that for the PDSP and include a summary of the PDSP discussion and any adjustments made to the draft as a result.

Only after committee approval has been given can and should such a response be sent. Once approved, the response is in the public domain and copies may be provided on request by anyone.

Deadlines

The Scottish Government provides information on consultations, with deadlines for responding.

There are separate pages for current and for forthcoming consultations. On the same site, a service is provided allowing subscription (at no cost) to receive weekly emails giving advance warning of consultations about to start, those which are ongoing, and consultations about to close.

When a consultation arrives or notification is received, officers should act immediately to avoid problems later. A flowchart is attached to assist.

Missed deadlines or near misses

The PDSP stage may be omitted if there is genuinely and for good reason no time to get to a meeting due to a short consultation period or the timetable of meetings not providing a suitable meeting date. Inactivity by officers is not a good reason. Referral to a PDSP meeting should be the norm. Additional PDSP meetings can be arranged through the Lead Officer and PDSP Chair if it is felt that consideration of a draft at a meeting is called for.

If that cannot be achieved then the draft can be circulated by email to PDSP members for comment, explaining there is no time for a PDSP report but that comments will be incorporated into the committee report or notified verbally to committee at the meeting if time is very pressing. PDSP representatives from external bodies should be included.

The committee report should explain that there was no consideration at a PDSP meeting, and why, and should refer to and summarise any off-line comments made by PDSP members and representatives.

In urgent circumstances, SO31 can be used, which allows the Clerk to the Council to make a decision on behalf of a committee, after consulting with the committee Chair. Contact Committee Services if this procedure is necessary or see further information on Dealing with Urgent Business under Standing Order No. 31 (SO31).

Using that power is not appropriate where there is no urgency, where a response can wait for the next committee, or where there is political controversy attached. That will be for Committee Services to determine, bearing in mind the views of the Chair.

If a draft has been to the PDSP and there were no adverse comments then that draft is more likely to be approved via SO31 than one which has appeared from nowhere the day before the deadline for responses.

Conclusion

  • Use the Scottish Government website and email subscription service
  • Use the flow chart pdf icon Consultation Responses Flowchart [37kb]
  • Allocate the work to someone who understands the process
  • Consult and agree the process with the Executive Councillor within one working day of the consultation period starting
  • Make decisions quickly and early in the timescale
  • Plan ahead - pick the PDSP and committee dates and work towards them
  • In emergency, ask for advice and help as soon as possible

Further Information

James Millar,

Solicitor/Committee Services Manager,

Email james.millar@westlothian.gov.uk,

Telephone 01506 281613