A consultation too far?

Regular readers will know that I am quite taken with consultations: I like people asking my opinion nearly as much as I love giving it.  I tend to respond to AML-themed ones most avidly, but in recent months I have also given my view on the function of the modern Neighbourhood Watch, the best street lighting to have in my town, and whether our local roundabout should become a junction again.  Consultation is a good thing when done well: it allows those affected by an issue to have their say, and it enables those tasked with dealing with that issue to frame their response to get the most support.  But I sometimes think that it is forgotten that responding fully and thoughtfully to a consultation takes a lot of time and effort.  Really, a lot.

May I present as evidence the latest AML consultation from HMG here in the UK, launched on 15 September.  It’s a really important one: “Consultation on the transposition of the Fourth Money Laundering Directive”.  Important and fascinating and long-reaching.  Right up my street, I thought, opening a new packet of Jaffa Cakes, sharpening my pencil and getting started.  I worked my way through twenty-eight questions, and then realised that we had only really covered due diligence…  So I looked ahead (I tend not to do this with consultations, as I prefer to address the questions in the order in which they are raised without clouding my response by knowing what is coming next) and there are eighty-seven questions.  Eighty-seven!  And many of them require you to go off and read the text of MLD4 before answering.  All by 10 November 2016.

I appreciate that time pressures are there (as stated crisply in the consultation itself, “the government intends that the new provisions will come into force in national law by 26 June 2017”), but I do wonder whether it might have been better to issue two or three smaller consultation documents, or indeed to get rid of some of the questions (nearly all of which carry the disheartening reminder to “Please provide credible, cogent and open-source evidence to support your response”).  My husband, who has experience of dealing with central government, will snort when he reads this: he often comments that consultations are issued because they must be issued, and the fewer responses that are received, the better – the consulting body can then do what it wants and say that they asked but no-one cared enough to reply.  I will battle through, of course, but I’m going to have to take several bites at it – and order in plenty of Jaffa Cakes.

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