By Ray Fleming

LABOUR pioneered the use of focus groups to sound out public opinion on new policies -- groups chosen with some care to represent a cross section of people likely to be affected by the policies under review. The Lib-Cons are doing it differently. Shortly after being elected they issued an open invitation to anyone with ideas on savings in government or on ongoing policies to e-mail or write-in with their ideas. It's called “crowdsourcing”, apparently. The Treasury got 60'000 suggestions and other departments a smaller number. At the end of last week each department responded to the public's input. Not one indicated that any idea had been adopted or was still under review and in almost every case the department simply restated its existing policy. The Department of Energy said that there had been a call for securing energy supplies and decarbonising the economy. “We agree” was its response, plus a summary of its policy.

This is close to being a farce. How many civil servants at the Treasury were engaged in analysing the public's 60'000 suggestions? Was there not a single idea worth adopting? The suspicion must be that this is yet another half-baked and cynical idea from the coalition designed to kid people that they are somehow part of Mr Cameron's ill-defined Big Society. Testing attitudes and opinions is a serious business and should be conducted in a professional way.

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