“Policy Guidance” for dummies

8 Mar

A question has been asked, in the context of a post below – what is “policy guidance”.

There is, of course, a government-speak explanation for what it is and it will have lots of jargon.  But basically you need to know only two things:

1.  It is artificially aspirational.

If the government of the day REALLY wanted to do what is in the guidance they would have put it in the law (in this case, the National Planning Policy Framework which is a legal document – although that, too, has many loopholes).

It is what the government would like us to believe they would do in an ideal world – an ideal world which does not exist and which they have no intention of ever creating because it would be very awkward for them and not what they really want.  This is why it is full of conditional phrases “could, should, would, desirable, encouraged, etc”.

2.  It is entirely up to a council whether it takes notice of guidance or not.

In practice, this means that if there is something in the guidance document that the council wants, someone on the Development Management Committee quotes the paragraph in a censorious voice and looks very serious, giving the impression that what is written in the guidance is set in stone and they must do it, event though it breaks their hearts to foist this on us.

If, however, you as an objector to something were to quote the exact same paragraph in your speech, self-same Development Management Committee (and probably the same person as sketched above) would smile sorrowfully at you and say “but it’s just guidance” – we don’t have to do it, so just go away, you naughty little objector who doesn’t know any better”.


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