Managing an excellent planning service

As I mentioned a short while ago, we’re about to launch a new series. Originally our attempt to take the NPIP work forward, it has grown into a longer-term piece of support to help local authorities adapt not only to a (cross fingers) brief downturn in applications but what may be long-term pressure on operating budgets. 

An overview

Managing an excellent planning service (‘MEPS’) is a combination of three inputs:-

  1. Resource analysis: based on the work done by the esd-toolkit we’ve created a model that allows you to capture and share your operating model. It is in more detail than CIPFA, but hopefully is still understandable and useable by “normal” people.
  2. Performance analysis: at present a fairly basic look at application-handling, hopefully this component will have some plan-making added
  3. Change management: making change happen in local authorities is not easy, so we share the lessons from the NPIP pathfinders and what they found from their attempts to unlock cashable savings

These are delivered in fairly small events, designed for head-of-service type people supported by their technicians. They then lead onto smaller benchmarking clubs where resources and performance can really be unpicked. Having understood the issues (the ‘check’) they can then put together a plan (the, uh, ‘plan’) and be supported in delivering it (the ‘do’).

We’re still working on the whole package – some of this is really quite new for us. It has, for example, forced us to create a “dictionary” of the types of activities a modern, spatial and DM planning function undertakes. It has required us to standardise some of the statistics hacks used to diagnose performance issues in application-handling. As this is the component I’ve been working on today, here are a couple of highlights. More details are in our community of practice – this is a sub-community “Managing excellent planning service” underneath our main PAS CoP.

What happens to applications ?

The thrust of the stats component is in two areas – firstly to understand what is happening in the department and secondly to get a sense of how it looks to applicants. The stats uses sample data – this is *not* a real planning authority but is originally based on data from a couple of LPAs that I’ve mungled and anonymised.

trendsOn one graph we can see how much work comes in that probably shouldn’t have in the first place. Astonishing that 40% of the applications received in July 07 were subsequently withdrawn.The other two lines track (for those applications that were determined) the approval rate and delegation rate. The planning committee is important democratically, but it is slower and more expensive. It needs to be kept in balance with broader council priorities and finances.

The sausage machine

I cut my statistical teeth in housing repairs a long time ago. For a contractor, work in progress (WIP) is the enemy – it represents work that can’t yet be billed. It is a pretty good indicator of your working capital, it’s all wages and parts that need to be bought from reserves.

In a similar way, non-determined applications are the WIP of a planning authority. Carry too much WIP and you cannot hope to get through it all in time – from that point on the only decision you can take is how quickly to let the bad news out of the pipe. Not good for you, not good for applicants. You can calculate the WIP for your dept quite easily – this fictional LPA should have had a maximum WIP of around 500.

WIPPretending that everyone had a clean desk on the 1st Jan 2005, you simply count applications received as +ve, and applications determined and withdrawn as -ve. The bad news builds up, only reducing as application numbers start to fall away from the middle of 2008. If this LPA were real, this is when you might expect it’s NI157 to take a nosedive. Paying attention to the WIP means you can spot these issues months in advance. It’s a fair bet that your building control colleagues have a weekly report that looks a bit like this already.


I’m not expecting to win the argument, but I think this whole “clock starting” thing has been a very bad thing for LPAs and their relationship with the public. My power of empathy is not the best, but I’m pretty sure that if I was an applicant my own, perceptual clock would start when I wrote the cheque for the application. The last graph for today shows average time (*not* %age compliance with arbitrary target) for all applications in our imaginary LPA.


The target for the majority of applications is 8 weeks, or 56 days.In the spring of 2008, it was taking 40 something days on average to acknowledge an application was actually complete.  You can also see the follow-on effect on determination times – this time measured from date of original receipt not “clock start day”.

The event

I’ve run out of steam now, having been doing this all day. If this is the sort of thing that might be useful to you, there are more details in the CoP. Even more importantly, come along to the event and we’ll take you through these techniques in person – much easier than trying to learn from (or write) online resources.


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