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Consultation and engagement framework 2021

1. Introduction

1.1. West Northamptonshire Council’s vision is ‘West Northamptonshire Council, a great place to live, work, visit and thrive.’

1.2. We want to consult and engage with stakeholders so they can inform our decisions. This will help ensure that the decisions we take:
1.2.2. Are informed by public opinion;
1.2.3. Reflect and respond to the needs of local people; and
1.2.4. Are transparent and accountable.

1.3. While we cannot guarantee that stakeholders will always agree with our decisions, this framework is designed to improve the way we involve them in our decision-making.

2. Principles

2.1. To ensure we are consistent in our approach our consultation and engagement activities will follow these principles:

2.2. Consultation and engagement will be:
2.2.2. Meaningful and have a clear purpose;
2.2.3. Timely, take place when there is opportunity to influence the decision and allow people a reasonable amount of time to respond;
2.2.4. Visible so that we take reasonable and practicable steps to ensure people are made reasonably aware;
2.2.5. Accessible, easy to understand and targeted to those people we need to reach;
2.2.6. Analysed and used to inform decision-making;
2.2.7. Responsive with clear feedback given to participants and stakeholders; and
2.2.8. Evaluated and used to improve future activities.

3. Why we will consult and engage

3.1. We are committed to working with others to understand the needs of residents, businesses and others partners and stakeholders. We values people’s views on our services and future proposals to help to ensure that we are providing great value services, which are flexible and appropriate to local needs, and to help to inform development of West Northamptonshire to help improve the lives of those who live and work and visit the area.

3.2. Sometimes there is also a legal requirement for us to consult. The law around consultation is complex as it is governed by numerous case law and several pieces of legislation. Examples include (but not limited to):
3.2.2. Under the Local Government Finance Act 1992, we have a statutory duty to consult interested persons on our annual spending proposals, ahead of setting our budget.
3.2.3. Under the Local Government Act 1999 we have a statutory duty to consult representatives of a wide range of local persons. We also have a duty to consult stakeholders to help ensure that service delivery is continuously improved in relation to economy, efficiency and effectiveness.
3.2.4. The Equality Act 2010 addresses discrimination and inequalities and protects all individuals from unfair treatment. We have a number of statutory duties arising from the Act to better advance equality into our service planning and decision-making processes. The duties require us to consider how the decisions we make, and the services we deliver, affect people from different equality groups who share a ‘protected characteristic’. Equality Impact Assessments can help to demonstrate that decision makers are fully aware of the impact that changes may have on stakeholders.
3.2.5. The Localism Act 2011 includes a community empowerment section. A number of Community Rights have been introduced to give local residents the opportunity to have a greater say about what happens to local amenities, how local services are delivered or how new developments are planned. Furthermore, should any council wish to increase its council tax above the annual threshold set by Government, then it would need to gain support for its proposals by holding a local referendum.
3.2.6. The Revised Best Value Statutory Guidance 2015 sets out some reasonable expectations on the way we should work with voluntary and community groups and small businesses when facing difficult funding decisions. The guidance states that we are required to ‘consider overall value, including economic, environmental and social value, when reviewing service provision’.
3.2.7. Many council services have specific statutory requirements to consult eg planning, where there is a requirement by statute to have a Statement of Community Involvement (SCI), which sets out how people will be consulted in the preparation of plans and planning applications and what assistance will be provided to communities preparing neighbourhood plans or neighbourhood development orders.

3.3. In addition to the statutory duties mentioned above, there can be a legitimate expectation of consultation. The legitimate expectation applies:
3.3.2. Where there has been a clear promise of consultation;
3.3.3. Where official guidance or policies imply a promise to act in a particular way;
3.3.4. Where there is a withdrawal of a benefit with significant impacts to be considered; and/or
3.3.5. Where the nature of the relationship would create unfairness if there were to be inadequate consultation.

4. What we will consult and engage about

4.1. We provide a wide range of services and are involved in lots of other decisions affecting the local area, so there are many things we may seek stakeholders views on.

4.2. Consultation and engagement will generally be part of the our decision-making process and will give stakeholders an opportunity to influence decisions. Examples include (but not be limited to):
4.2.2. Decide our policies and priorities;
4.2.3. Meet budget and tax setting requirements;
4.2.4. Inform future prioritisation and budget decisions;
4.2.5. Meet statutory requirements;
4.2.6. Meet equality duties (develop evidence base to assess potential impact);
4.2.7. Inform whether to buy or stop paying for services provided by voluntary and community groups or small businesses;
4.2.8. Identify service improvements;
4.2.9. Monitor service provision;
4.2.10. Inform design of future service provision; and
4.2.11. Test new proposals and ideas.

4.3. There are however times when it is not appropriate to consult or engage, for example:
4.3.2. If the decision is under strict direction from government; and/or
4.3.3. If we have already recently asked for views on a similar topic.

5. Who we will consult and engage with

5.1. We will consult and engage with representatives of a wide range of local people. These representatives may include but not be limited to some or all of the following:
5.1.2. Representatives of Council Tax payers;
5.1.3. Service users and potential service users;
5.1.4. Voluntary and community organisations;
5.1.5. Representatives of equality groups;
5.1.6. Residents’ and Tenants associations;
5.1.7. Local business community;
5.1.8. Partner organisations;
5.1.9. Elected Councillors; and/or
5.1.10. Staff (and their recognised trade union).

5.2. We will also ensure that the views of those most affected by the issue or proposal will be sought.

5.3. Our aim is always to get a good cross-section of views.

5.4. Councillors

5.4.1. Local elected Councillors also have a key role to play in understanding local concerns and issues, and ensuring we hear and understand them.

5.5. We will consult and engage Councillors in any significant decision that affects:
5.5.2. Their portfolio;
5.5.3. Their responsibility as Chair or Deputy Chair of a Scrutiny Committee;
5.5.4. Their responsibility as Chair or Deputy Chair of any other committee; and/or
5.5.5. Their electoral division.

5.6. In addition, we will ensure that Town and Parish Councils are informed and involved in decisions affecting their local area.

6. When we will consult and engage

6.1. Consultation and engagement will take place when we have sufficient information to enable stakeholders to give an informed opinion on the issue being discussed.

6.2. Our activities will take place when there is scope for the results to inform policy development and decision-making.

6.3. We will publicise our activities to let people know they are happening and ensure that there is adequate time for stakeholders to take part.

6.4. Many consultations are governed by statutory duties and we must consult for a specified length of time. As these differ widely, we do not have one standard consultation time period.

7. How we will consult and engage

7.1. How we will involve stakeholders will depend on what, why, when and who we are engaging. Activities may include (but not be limited to):
7.1.2. Questionnaires and/or surveys;
7.1.3. Focus Groups;
7.1.4. Customer and user groups;
7.1.5. Interviews;
7.1.6. Social media polls;
7.1.7. Comment cards and/or feedback;
7.1.8. Co-production ie a way of working, whereby everybody works together on an equal basis to come to a decision which works for them all. However, depending what type of consultation and/ or engagement activity is being deployed, co-production may be undertaken in a variety of ways;
7.1.9. Conferences and/or community events;
7.1.10. Site and press notices, letters and emails, and through our website; and
7.1.11. Petitions.

7.2. We will also make sure that everyone, including ‘seldom heard’ or seldom seen groups/ individuals are able to be involved, by ensuring that our activities are inclusive and accessible.

7.3. We will use appropriate means of involvement, which may include (but not be limited to):
7.3.2. Online;
7.3.3. Paper/written;
7.3.4. Telephone; and
7.3.5. Face-to-face.

7.4. How we consult is sometimes prescribed by legislation or by way of an existing agreement of conduct, for example Northamptonshire Compact, which is an agreement between Northamptonshire public bodies and the voluntary and community sector.

7.5. Partnership working
7.5.2. When appropriate, we will join-up and collaborate with other local organisations to consult and engage jointly with stakeholders. This will:
7.5.2.1. Deliver better value for money for all local agencies and for local residents;
7.5.2.2. Reduce duplication;
7.5.2.3. Make it easier for stakeholders to have their views heard;
7.5.2.4. Improve the quality, consistency and timeliness of our activities; and
7.5.2.5. Develop better sharing of information amongst partners.

8. How we will use stakeholder feedback

8.1. Results of consultation and engagement activities will be used to inform our decision-making process.

8.2. Feedback will be considered alongside a range of other factors such as legislation and government guidance, demographics, financial costs and environmental impacts before a decision is reached.

8.3. We will communicate the results and make clear how feedback has contributed to the decision. We will inform people who may be directly affected by the findings and/or outcome of the consultation and engagement. This communication will be appropriate and proportionate. Results will also be referred to in any decision-making papers at Executive and Council, as well as the online Consultation Hub.

9. Getting involved

9.1. To find out more or take part in our consultation and engagement activity, please visit the West Northamptonshire Consultation Hub

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Last updated 30 September 2021