Our eponymous hero Eric Pickles (Department for Communities and Local Government) has announced quite possibly the most wide sweeping and yet sketchy review of local authority social care and other duties (amongst many other things) (H/T Community Care). At first blush it looks harmless enough, strip away the regulatory red tape and let local authorities get on with the job at hand...A single, simple page on the Communities & Local Government website, with just a few streamlined words of explanation. So unprepossessing, so unremarkable. Simple enough to be dealt with via a survey monkey webform in fact *.
As with any pickle, it may look mild enough on the plate of a ploughmans, but it may have a certain tang on closer inspection (sorry, cheesy pun).
So, let's bring out the Branston: tastefully hidden in an unthreatening excel file, you will find (if you care to look) a list of 1078 items that Pickles thinks possibly he might get rid of. Included in this very very very very long spreadsheet, are pretty much all the core duties which underpin social care. By way of example, Mr Pickles thinks we might not need a duty towards children in need, a duty to promote the welfare or education of looked after children, or a duty to promote reasonable contact to children in care - in fact not even a duty to receive and keep a child in care where a care order is made.
Pause for breath...
He also thinks we might not need a duty on local authorities to assist families through family assistance orders or the court through s37 reports (where the court suspects a child may be at risk of significant harm), nor that the duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children within a local authorities area is strictly necessary. Oh and no s47 duty to investigate where there is a suspicion of harm.
I could go on, but essentially it would probably have been easier for Eric "Survey Monkey" Pickles to have asked if we should just ditch the Children Act 1989, since most of the core sections we know and love (or hate) are there, up for grabs - including s31. It's a shame really, because there probably are some duties that could be ditched, but they are buried deep deep deep undercover of spreadsheet.
Oh. So. Many. Questions.
Like: What exactly IS the point of the Family Justice Review?
And: What does the Law Commission think about all this? Oh, we have an answer to this one - it might possibly be a little bit miffy as a result of not having been informed before the monkey was uncaged.
And: What does the Department of Education, the Ministry of Justice or any number of other agencies think about it? Or Eileen Munro for that matter?
And: Which particular monkey constructed the wholly substandard, fatuous, pointless, irritating, not at all user friendly webform which masquerades for a genuine attempt to get our views? Was he an overenthusiastic but slightly geeky yoof on work experience or an actual monkey? Or is this simply a product of lazy, sloppy approach to this review, which exposes a casual attitude towards the fundamental importance of the core elements of the Children Act as much as to the importance of undertaking proper, rigorous and accessible consultation?
Some of you may have nothing better to do with your time than tick radio boxes on a webform 1078 times (I kid you not - the webform appears to envisage that if you want to make specific comments on a particular duty you should complete the form once for each of those duties giving the appropriate reference number extracted from the very very very very very long excel spreadsheet). For those of you who don't want to endure the tedium of exploring the irritations of a webform that leads you blindly through questions you don't really want to answer, giving you the most minute of spaces in which to tackle a vast and serious topic, before submitting your form without warning - buried deep within the form is an email address, which I suggest you use instead to tell Mr Pickles what an utter gherkin this "informal exercise" is. It is this: firstname.lastname@example.org (presumably the burden referred to in the email address is the burden imposed on those responding to the consultation and those tasked with sifting through the 1078 x numerous webforms?).
This is not a consultation, it's a farce. The farce closes on 25 April.
*About Survey Monkey. Don't think I'm being down on Survey Monkey. Survey Monkey is a great service, but as with any market research tool the quality of the information it produces is heavily dependent on the way in which you ask the questions. I would hazard a guess that Survey Monkey is most likely to produce good results if you don't take the name too literally and there is an actual homo sapiens constructing questions, and a survey structure which is likely to elicit useful answers. And it might just possibly not be the best way to get answers to 1078 separate questions which cover vast swathes of complex law and social policy and which are unlikely to elicit yes / no answers.