CONSULTATION exercises by Dorset Council are generally getting a good response, according to the authority – although often fail to attract many responses from younger people.

The consultation which attracted the large number over the past year was on proposed restrictions for dog exercising, weighing in with over 8,600, closely followed by 6,770 who had their say about garden waste collections.

By comparison the climate and ecological emergency proposals attracted 1,519 responses although the council says this was broken down to represent a total of 12,000 comments across the wide-ranging document – 46% from people aged 65-plus, only 5% from those under 35.

Although the council claim the responses to their consultations are successful none have managed to get a response from any more than a small percentage of the county’s 380,000 population.

A report next week reminds councillors that the exercises are not referendums and the final decisions on consulted items still rest with them.

It also points out the dangers of ‘consultation fatigue’ should the council be tempted to put more policy decisions out for consultation – in general terms warning that the more which are held, the lower the response.

Said the report to next week’s place and resources scrutiny committee: “Dorset Council’s consultations are quite successful in securing responses from ‘seldom heard’ / under-represented groups. For example, the council’s recent consultation on its Housing Allocation Policy was highly rated and held up as an example of national good practice by the National Practitioner Support Service, who commented favourably on the high response rate and the inclusive methodology.”

The report stresses the need for the council to continue to design consultations and the conclusions drawn from them in a robust and fair way to avoid legal challenges to council decisions influenced by the outcome of a consultation exercise. Steps are being considered to improve the response from 'hard to reach' groups.

One of the lowest responses to a consultation was just 64 for the Dorset Council equality, diversity and inclusion strategy in November last year – although the council say this was an example where low numbers do not mean a poor response: “Often quality of responses is as important as numbers,” concluded the report.

The majority of the consultation work is carried out by a small team ‘in house’ although occasionally the council will use external consultancy firms – the most recent being a residents’ annual survey at a cost of £24,000.

All council consultations are publicly available via the ‘consultation tracker’ on the council website. All findings and reports from consultations are also published on these web pages.