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Since July 2012, the average consultation time has decreased, and Society of Biology has today released a report which warns of the negative consequences for policy making. New Consultation Principles were published by the cabinet office in July 2012, no longer requiring the 12 week consultation period set out in the previous Code of Practice on Consultation. The Society of Biology expressed concerns at the time, and has written to the Cabinet Office and others with its concerns and evidence.

Dr Downs, chief executive of the Society of Biology, says: “Good and efficient ways of working with Government are vital if we are to improve the societal benefit of science. By responding to Government consultations, the Society and our members can help provide an evidence base for sound policy making, but this ability is diminished by short consultations periods.”

The Society of Biology dedicates significant resource to gathering evidence and drafting responses to relevant inquiries, and to supporting its Member Organisations in developing their policy work.

Since the new Consultation Principles were published, for consultations relevant to the biosciences:

  • The number lasting less than 6 weeks has increased from 4.5% to 18.9%.
  • The percentage lasting at least 12 weeks has fallen from 59% to 35%.
  • The mean duration has fallen from 10.8 weeks to 9.2 weeks.

Although this trend is concerning, there need not be a ‘one size fits all’ consultation process. Dr Mark Downs says: “There are a minority of situations where consultation times of 12 weeks may not be appropriate. In these cases we call for an explanation of the necessity of a shorter timescale, and for early engagement to ensure that the consultation process remains effective. When planning consultations, it is important that Government departments consider the ability of stakeholders such as learned societies to engage in the policy process.”

The current lack of proper consultation with relevant stakeholders puts transparent and accountable policy making at risk. There is now less openness in the policy making process, and there is the opportunity for Government to reverse this trend. If early engagement with stakeholders is incorporated into plans for policy development, this can reduce the problems associated with shorter consultation times.