I suggested that, in the light of the rejection by consultees, the proposals should be abandoned and a new scheme should be designed but, for the coming year, we stick with the current charges plus the 6% increase demanded by the budget.
The lead officer present said that, for this to go ahead, a fresh consultation would be needed. As a result, the panel decided not to pursue this option.
I asked for legal advice on this statement because I don't think it is logical that all options other than the one consulted on should be closed off. In particular, I don't believe that the status quo should not be an option for the panel.
I've now had the legal advice:
"Although it seems to an extent illogical, I have checked the relevant legislation, with a colleague and if the modification proposed represents a “substantial change” to the terms of the draft order as consulted upon then the inference is that the public should be informed and should be given an opportunity to make further representations.
I think the key factor is that a uniform increase of 6% across the board and in all other respects keeping the charges the same, does not represent a substantial change to the current position but does represent a substantial change to what was consulted upon. Although, therefore, the proposed amendment was arguably an entirely sensible one and might have widespread support from members of the public, its difference from what was proposed is such that it would have required consultation before being implemented."
I trust the officer who gave me this advice, but he is right to point out that it seems illogical. I would go further and suggest that it is perverse. It appears that the consultation exercise was a waste of time because the panel had no option but to recommend the original scheme (or a very close approximation of it). Their only choice would be to consult again on the status quo or come up with a new scheme and consult on that. One alternative might have been to consult on both the proposal and the status quo, but this is not what the Council chose to do.
I don't think that this is right and so I am writing to the local government minister to outline the situation and to ask him to change the law. Regrettably, any change in the law cannot be in time to allow Cornwall Council to implement another scheme without further consultation, but this is a situation where the law is clearly an ass.
In the meantime, because of the horrendous impact that the proposed charge rises will have on many towns including Launceston, I will be asking the Cabinet to abandon this proposal and to hold a fresh consultation either on a fairer scheme or on the status quo.