Heads of Planning are BUMs

Planning Advisory Service doesn’t advertise. If it did, I reckon an ‘advertorial’ would be appropriate and what follows is my attempt at writing one. It’s aimed primarily at those that could benefit from our support, but also at ourselves. You see, no matter how many hours of chin stroking in locked rooms we do putting our service plan together, there is always the nagging doubts… ‘have we got it right’?… ‘Do councils actually want what we’re offering?’… and the scary one; ‘are we relevant’?

I have just returned from a Peer Challenge at a really good council in the North of England. The myriad of interviews, document reading, tours and presentations that inform the review gave me the opportunity to assess, first hand, how relevant PAS services are. And I am going to slap PAS on the back and say well done. So, if you can’t bear self- congratulatory spiel look away now, if however you are interested in how PAS can help councils with some real examples, swallow hard and keep reading. Continue reading

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Submission to the CLG Select Committee

[This is the summary of the report submitted by PAS in February 2007]

This evidence is submitted by IDeA Planning Advisory Service (PAS) and is based on information collected and observed since the inception of PAS in late 2004. The evidence submitted is focussed on planning skills in the local government sector and cannot be read across to other public agencies or to planning undertaken in the private sector. Key issues presented in this submission:

• The working world of planners and politicians in local government has changed and will continue to change substantially over the coming years. Not only has the system framework fundamentally altered, and continues to incrementally change, but the issues that are being addressed through the planning system have increased in complexity and profile. The expectations on planners, politicians and the system itself to deliver have never been higher.
• Those occupying a management role in planning will not always have invested in the necessary skills. The new integrated environment that planners work within requires a broader range of competencies, including partnership working, resource management, teamwork, procurement and project management skills which are not commonly found.
• Additional skills around understanding development economics and infrastructure valuation will be required with the introduction of an infrastructure levy.
• Councillor skills are immensely variable and in the absence of a consistent approach to training and development across the country this situation is unlikely to change. If the proposal to introduce Local Member Review Boards is pursued then the capability of councillors will need to be addressed.
• The current approach to planning is a shared enterprise needing the engagement of leaders and senior managers in local government and partner organisations, delivery bodies and the private sector to understand the nature of the changes taking place and to develop their own roles. Planners will not be able to do this in isolation.
• PAS is funded until 2011 and will work closely with partner organisations to deliver a range of support that meets the changing needs of planners in the public sector

Planning Skills

[This article was originally printed in Planning Magazine, February 2008]

This month I find myself writing about the shortage of planners, the skills they bring and their contribution to shaping communities. I feel I have been here a number of times before – yet, what has changed since Egan? Yes, there are more planners and planning schools are oversubscribed, planning is again becoming a profession to be proud of, one that young people want to join – all of which is fantastic. But there is still a shortage of the skills that planners have in abundance – or do they?

My view, partial and of the public sector only, is that those skills that planners pride themselves on having – community engagement, strategic thinking, partnership working, negotiation, communication – are actually hard to find. In significant numbers of authorities, planners are struggling to get what they consider to be the ‘day job’ done. The sorts of activities for which these generic skills are required are seen to be an ‘extra’; the additional requests from the corporate centre, a burden; and the work to get the partners to understand what we do is too difficult. It is also clear that planners don’t always know what they don’t know – sometimes thinking they have all the skills they need because they haven’t really understood what the task involves.

But these generic skills are essential to doing the work of spatial planning. This is our job and will be more so into the future. What is considered to be additional to the day job is actually the day job. The need to engage with other people, services, organisations is all part of the work that planners are now required to do. To communicate effectively, to negotiate for the community, to value the contribution of partners is what the work of a spatial planner is about. Along with the planning system the work of the planner has changed – and the skills that go with that are also changing. Planners need to assess their own skills set, work out where there are gaps, find ways of developing themselves. Only by doing this will planners stay relevant and a key contributor to shaping places.

If you would like to contribute to this debate the CLG Select Committee is undertaking an enquiry into planning skills, see: http://www.parliament.uk/clgcom.