Wednesday, 24 November 2010

knowing the cost...

Pronouncements that Councils may be able to set their own fees for submitting planning applications soon are filled with both trepidation and opportunity.

Setting aside the work likely to have to be done for any Council to actually know the true cost of running its DC Services - a monumental task which shouldn't be underestimated given that for many, true running costs are borne centrally or absorbed by bodies corporate (e.g. office space, phones/communications, IT, committee's).

So many questions..

Will developers be driven to make decisions on planning applications merely on the basis of the cost of it? In my experience it can be a limited factor but often not the critical one. A few quid here or there wont make a huge amount of difference.

DC (sorry DM) costs are simply not those of an application. What about pre-application services? (we know some of you charge) and appeals? Will hard pressed but financially astute DM managers try to recover costs through the appeal process - i might on some of the more spurious WR cases! "Costs" also come from delays, skill shortages, inappropriate resourcing, dare I suggest even through ministerial pronouncements!!

We ask should DM be better or cheaper? or Both? Setting local fee rates is perhaps just the tip of the iceberg.

Can new or different working practices do it cheaper? Might it release funding for new investment if a business case is made? How will the business case for the charge be scrutinised?

Should a high cost but poor/inefficient service charge more than a cost effective neighbouring authority? What incentive is there for Councils to be more efficient if they can set their own fees ? Come on Ezer dont be quite so cynical...

Many experimented with limited outsourcing when high volumes of applications swamped them in the good old days. Is it time to lo0k again at this? Would this give lower costs and will commercially astute managers outsource certain admin tasks (e.g. scanning, printing, record management). UNISON are probably sharpening the knives as i type as staff cuts are inevitable. Pickles has already mentioned mergers so is there scope to look to control costs that way? Are consultancies waiting in the wings developing commercially irresistible "packages" that offer to reduce costs by working better, smarter. They know their market after dont they?

I suspect the cost of processing a householder application in Westminster is significantly different to Northumberland for all sorts of reasons. Development Management is a political process and I suspect the true costs of householder applications between wards of the same council will vary significantly. How can this be addressed?

Ryanair have become the masters of tick box charging... might we see the beginnings of more costly fast track services and a cheaper less expensive alternative? Could developers negotiate advance discounts for submitting a minimum number of plots per year? Its a local decision and its yours to make.

In areas where there is a higher proportion of smaller (lower paying) applications, will fees rise significantly more to cover fixed costs? Does that place those areas at a disadvantage? Whats the betting rural areas fare worst?

However.... as any business knows it isn't only cost that matters (albeit understanding costs and controlling them is vital).

Value is a different story. Value is something that people gladly pay for and its very different. Can we deliver better, quicker more efficient services, make them customer focused (for all parties), raise service standards and manage expectancy? Lets do business not do battle. Might we see personal account managers (after all a case officer is but a customer account manager)? If charges rise, and customers see no justification then they are right to question the value of it all. "Can I have my money back please" may become a frequent sound in peoples ears.

So that brings me to my KEY question, the thought for the day. If localism is truly about local people making local decisions. "the people" is the electorate. But they too are customers, service users -something still often forgot. You can choose your hospital, you choose your school, so why not let planning customers decide where and to whom they submit the planning application?

The PlanningPortal could become the place where Planning Departments bid for work?

Come on folks.. shall we let value decide.

No comments:

Post a Comment