Benchmarking – improving planning services

(this article is reproduced with the permission of the journal of the TCPA)

The Planning Advisory Service (PAS) is a government-funded programme of improvement for local authorities. Eighteen months ago we began a project for managers of planning services. This is the story of one authority, Hastings Borough Council, who were in our very first benchmarking group of six coastal authorities in the South East.

The most common performance measure published by planning authorities is National Indicator 157 (NI157), on speed of determining planning applications. Hastings’ performance against NI157 (centre top in the chart above) showed a slight decline over the last four years compared with that of its peers. Our work with this group was designed to get underneath and behind this sort of statistic to help unpick what was really going on and so help them to understand the implications for costs, time and performance. Continue reading


John Seddon is “irritating”, but that doesn’t mean “wrong”

I am a long-term fan of John Seddon’s brain. His first book “I want you to cheat” remains one of my favourites, and I’ve probably reread it every year since it was published. I also subscribe to his newsletter; this week he says:

“In the wake of the new government’s abandonment of central targets and specifications the IDeA (which, I have to admit, has changed its name, but I love calling it ‘no idea’) fills the void by recommending that we do the same wrong thing. The boss argues we need to establish a series of targets and benchmark services on unit costs. To support his argument he cites an opinion survey amongst ‘performance managers’ and ‘policy officers’ in local government; what would you expect them to say?”

Now PAS is about to launch our biggest ever project in November. What sort of project ? I’m glad you asked. It’s a benchmarking project. This isn’t the first time that John has lambasted “activity based costing” – what follows explains why I’m not losing any sleep over his latest angry little missive. Continue reading

Lessons so far – Managing Excellent Planning Services (MEPS)

MEPS is 10 months old now and we have 7 benchmarking groups made up of 30 authorities. As expected, this project gets more and more interesting as we add more sets of data into it. Its early days – I am not quite ready to share individual authorities’ improvement stories, but I can start sharing what we are learning about the planning beast more generally. Some of it confirms things we know, some makes us question some of the ‘received wisdom’ about what improves planning services, and other bits are frankly, leaving us scratching our heads… Continue reading

Total Places

Total Place is another initiative with the weight of delivering ‘step change’ in local government efficiency and service improvement on its shoulders. While I am a fan of the Total Place raison d’etre, I always feel sorry for the next ‘big idea’ asked to make up for all of the past failed attempts to deliver ‘enough’ step change. Total Place has 3 workstreams; Counting; Culture (wouldnt ‘counter-culture’ have been a great theme?) and Customer Insight. Boiled down, they’re about working better together on things, agreeing to deliver better things for communities over a wider geographical area, and achieving the Holy Grail of streamlining services to deliver savings’. Continue reading

MEPS tools part 2 – “the factory gate”

After a fairly heavy set-up, this is a more relaxed look at some of the visualisations possible when you have benchmarked your data. This, if you like, is the pay-off for the hassle of aligning your data with the standards. Our first one is nicknamed “the factory gate”, and treats the application system as if it were a manufacturing plant. Continue reading