Thursday 2 March 2023

When is a consultation not a consultation?

Blessed Officers have been hard at work this year re-defining the meaning of the word “consultation”, in the wake of the shock decision to hike navigation tolls by an eye-watering 13%. The plan first appeared in the papers for the Blessed Navigation Committee less than a week before their meeting on 12th January, and bore all the hallmarks of a Chinese presidential election – with only a single option to consider and 4 working days to think about it. Having been assured that the discussion could be delayed until January “because of the much improved tolls collection system”, the committee didn’t have much choice but to nod along – allowing Dr Pikeman to claim that the move was “supported” by the Blessed Nav Com. 

Just one week later, their “recommendation” went before the Board for rubber stamping, with the executive stressing the importance of subsidising Notional Park functions with navigation tolls, so as to avoid having to make other difficult decisions instead.

The increase was roundly condemned by everyone, with one industry group bravely pointing out that the consultation was unlawful, because it didn't comply with the fundamental principles of legal consultations - like having time to think about it, having more than one option to consider and being consulted before the decision had been made. 

Of course, the Pocket Monitoring Officer easily got round the problem by stating that the rules of legal consultations only applied when a consultation had to be lawful. Since there was nothing to say that Blessed Consultations had to comply with the law, they couldn't be unlawful if they didn’t.

The group also reminded the ChairPuppet, Dick Bilson, that increasing tolls to subsidise Notional Park activities was illegal because the navigation account is protected by Blessed Act of Parliament - but he dismissed the claim, citing the “Blessed Understanding” with DEFRA which makes them look the other way when asked. Toll payers already contribute to Blessed overheads, he said, so it is perfectly reasonable to make them pay twice as much. “It’s only the price of a round of drinks”, he added.

Bilson went on to explain that there had, in any event, been a full and transparent consultation in the form of a dinner party workshop in October, where an above-inflation tolls increase was quite possibly mentioned. Unfortunately, no record of it exists and everyone who attended mysteriously forgot to mention it to anyone. 

Meanwhile, in completely unrelated news, DEFRA have given The Blessed Authority an additional £440,000 to support Notional Park activities, which is a remarkably similar number to the extra money raided from toll payers to pay for exactly the same thing.

However, anyone thinking that the Blessed Authority would take the opportunity of doing the sensible and ethical thing was quickly disabused of the notion by a gleeful Dr Pikeman. “Notional Park grant income is ring-fenced to pay for Notional Park purposes” he said. “It can’t be siphoned across to subsidise the navigation account’s subsidy to the Notional Park fund, oh deary me no. That would be quite unlawful.”

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