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Tips For Scrutinising And Challenging Public Sector Cuts

In straitened times, when the government are seeking to trim the public sector budget – there will be decisions made by central and local government to cut public services and grants to the voluntary sector. The decision may be to reduce or close vital social care or health services.

Decisions to cut services can be challenged through a formal complaints procedure or ombudsman process but ultimately such decisions may need to be challenged in a Court by judicial review.

Judicial review is a specialist public law process of challenging a public body decision if such a decision is considered to be unfair or unlawful.

Some key points to look out for when such decisions are being made in order to scrutinise and consider challenging decisions to cut public services:

  • When was the decision made? Any challenge by way of judicial review should normally be made within 3 months from the date of the decision. (Q – When was the decision made? Is there a formal process?).
  • Was all relevant information taken into account before the decision was made? Was any irrelevant information disregarded? (Q – What key documents and information was taken into account when making the decision? Please provide this information to a link to allow access to the key document/information).
  • Did the public body follow their own procedures and keep to their commitments? (Q - What process did you go through to make this decision? Which person or committee authorised the final decision? What prior commitments had to be reviewed when you were making this decision?).
  • Was a formal equality impact assessment carried out and does the decision to cut services cause a real impact on the public body’s ability to promote equality in that particular sector? (Q- Please provide us with your equality impact assessments in respect of this decision).
  • Was there any meaningful consultation carried out before the decision was made? Were those that would be affected by the decision given a chance to be heard? (Q – Was any formal or informal consultation carried out in respect of this decision? What were the questions that were asked? What information was provided to those consulted? What was the period of consultation? Please provide us with a copy of the consultation document or a link to access it).
  • Was any consultation document:
    • Asking the right questions?
    • Open to considering the full range of reasonable options open to the public body?
    • Carried out over a reasonable period (e.g. at least 4-6 weeks to allow people a chance to consider the position and respond)

Ultimately if the decision feels like it’s wrong and unfair – it is likely that the decision may be challengeable on public law or human rights grounds. For example a service for a vulnerable group may be cut and no reasonable alternative is provided to meet their needs. In these circumstances seek specialist advice.

The first step would be to write to the public body to ask them to reverse their decision and to ask for the above information (see questions in the key points outlined above for guidance). Set a deadline for reply (say 14 days). If the information is not forthcoming or the information is received and is negative then seek specialist advice.

Legal Aid may be available to fund specialist advice and representation.

Mathieu Culverhouse

Irwin Mitchell  - Public Law Department