Reviews fuel 'dithering' concerns

News Shopper: Among the consultations was a review asking what time ice cream vans should be allowed to chime until Among the consultations was a review asking what time ice cream vans should be allowed to chime until

Nearly 1,000 public consultations or policy reviews have been commissioned by ministers during the past two years, prompting concerns that Whitehall is "dithering" in its decision making, it is reported.

Millions of pounds of tax payers' money has been spent on seeking public opinion on subjects, including ice cream van chimes and frozen vegetables, The Times said.

A survey of the 15 biggest Whitehall departments showed close to a third of the consultations, involving thousands of civil servants working for up to two years, have not yet received a Government response.

Among the consultations was a review into whether farmers should monitor pig movements electronically instead of using paper documents.

Another asked what time ice cream vans should be allowed to chime until, given that bed times for children are now later, and whether frozen vegetables should be included in a healthy eating scheme which offers food vouchers to mothers with children aged under four.

The investigation found that since May 2010, when the coalition Government was formed, 984 public consultations have been started, 610 of which ended with a government response and 302 closed without an official response. A further 73 consultations are still ongoing, the paper reported.

Bernard Jenkin, Conservative chairman of the Public Administration Select Committee, told The Times: "It is staggering that the Government should spend so much time and money and produce so few outcomes. This gives the term 'kicked into the long grass' a new reality.

"The Prime Minister complains rightly about dithering and inaction but Whitehall seems to be institutionally predisposed to dithering and inaction by review and consultation. This could be costing tens of millions of pounds."

He added that he would be referring the investigation to the Parliamentary Liaison Committee.

A Cabinet Office spokesman told The Times that new guidance was issued last July advising that consultations should run between two and 12 weeks, but longer if needed, in an attempt to streamline the process.

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