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The Daily Mail reports that Conservative run South Cambridgeshire District Council spent £750,000 on consulting over the transfer of its 5,800 Council homes to a housing association. It only got 269 replies which works out at £2,750 each.

Often consultation has become a bogus box ticking exercise. Bad luck South Cambridgeshire on getting found out but I doubt the figures are all that exceptional. Councils seem to think that the glossier and more professionally designed the brochures they send out the more virtuous they are being: "Oh, yes councillor. We've done a very thorough consultation with all the key stakeholders…."

Where a consultation is being undertaken purely as a statutory requirement this should be made clear and the cost kept to a minimum. When the consultation is genuine as the Council is undecided on whether or not to proceed with something this should also be made clear and while getting lots of responses is more important the cost should still be kept down.

I really don't think Ken Livingstone's bogus consultations (for instance on the Tram and the Congestion Charge Extension) really did him any good at all. He didn't like the results so he ignored them. Residents don't like being taken for fools. There is no point consulting them, disregarding the responses and then expecting them to foot a hefty bill. On the other hand if a Council is clear about the right thing to do it is pretty feeble to abandon it when there is derisory response to a consultation or one skewed by an organised response from political opponents to encourage negative replies to be sent back.

Councillors are elected and by the nature of their work should be in pretty constant touch with local opinion. Councils should consult a bit less and lead a bit more.

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