One way conversation

The 2,500 young people who took part in the “Your Say…”
consultation exercise staged by the government’s Children and Young
People’s Unit must be wondering why they bothered.

The unit is now disbanded and the strategy arising from the
listening exercise appears to have fallen by the wayside.

There is barely a mention of it in the children’s services green
paper Every Child Matters and charities in the field fear
the research is now not going to be used and the whole thing was a
complete waste of time.

The government makes great play of its commitment to listening to
people and is currently engaged in what it calls a “big
conversation” with the UK public. The “Your SayÉ” consultation
with young people was a mini-version of that.

It has also carried out initiatives to involve young people in
policy formation and discussions about services. Several government
departments published action plans last year on how they intended
to encourage participation by young people. One welcome step has
been that government reports about young people are now produced in
accessible formats with funky designs alongside the non-funky
inaccessible version meant for the rest of us. In August, the
government announced it was setting up a £500,000 consultation
fund to encourage young people to give their views on services that
affect them. Meanwhile, Connexions has been doing great work on
involving young people locally and the UKYouth Parliament is
helping to give young people a voice.

So, on the face of things, it is all happening on the consultation
front, particularly with young people. There’s even talk of
lowering the voting age to 16 as a way of engaging youth in the
political process.

But it is no good the government staging major consultation
exercises, gathering all these views and then simply binning them.
Paying lip-service to consultation and then ignoring what you are
told makes the whole thing a sham. Not only that, it generates
cynicism that will further disengage all of us from the development
of policy that affects us. It is not always apathy that prevents
people from participating – often it is a well-founded belief that
their views will not be acted on.

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