Agenda item

Worcester City Council Pilot - update


Following on from the meetings held on 22nd November 2012 and 27th June 2013, consideration was given to a report that provided Members with an update on the Worcester City Council Pilot.


As requested at the previous meetings of the Committee, Mr. M. Kay, Business Manager, Worcestershire Regulatory Services (WRS) provided Members with an update on the Worcester City Council pilot.  Members were informed that the pilot exercise had arisen from a request by Worcester City Council to examine ways of delivering £40,000 additional in year savings during 2013/2014.  The original intention was to agree service reductions/changes that had the potential to achieve the required level of savings and implement them as a pilot from 1st April 2013.


As detailed in the report a ‘menu’ of fully costed options was prepared and discussed with Worcester City Council for consideration.  Following further discussion, it was jointly decided to proceed with a pilot that delivered with respect to planning consultations and some categories of nuisance complaints.  After preparing the necessary processes and documentation, which required significant input and officer time from WRS and Worcester City Council, the pilot commenced on 10th June 2013.


The report provided detailed information on the two parts of the pilot, Planning Consultations and Nuisance Complaints.  The report highlighted that the intention of the pilot for Planning Consultations was to reduce the number of consultations significantly in order to achieve potential savings of up to £20,000.  Initially Worcester City Council submitted approximately 150 applications a year with an estimated cost to WRS of £30,000 to £40,000.  The intention of the pilot for Nuisance Complaints was to encourage complainants to help themselves, by initially dealing with the problem and only refer back to WRS if unsuccessful.  If the complaint was from multiple sources, and/or a statutory nuisance, or from someone classed as vulnerable, then WRS would deal with the complaint from the outset.


Planning Consultations – The pilot involved WRS producing detailed advice for planning officers and an algorithm that enabled planning officers to make decisions on applications without the need to refer to WRS officers. In addition internal management systems within Worcester City Council were altered so that mangers had to approve any referrals to WRS.  As a failsafe WRS officers also checked the weekly planning list.  For the pilot period 10th June to 17th December 2013 the number of planning applications referred for consultation was compared with the number referred over the same time period during the previous year:


·         Consultations in 2012 numbered 74

·         Consultations in 2013 numbered 67


There was a very small reduction in referrals, but Worcester City Council Development Control department indicated that there had been a 17% increase in the total number of applications received by the planning department over the same period.  So, the number of referrals to WRS had remained about the same, at a time when Worcester City Council had experienced a 17% increase in workload.  It was accepted that the time period for the pilot had been limited, the longer the pilot continued then the outcome and indications of potential savings would be more accurate. 


Nuisance Complaints - Having considered the statutory responsibilities and the professional advice of officers it was decided to include the following three areas of nuisance complaint within the scope of the pilot:


·         Air pollution (mainly garden bonfires)

·         Rubbish and miscellaneous complaints

·         Drainage


To aid with self help, changes were made to the Worcester City Council website with advice and letter templates made available to download. Duty officers were given advice and training on how to deal with complaints at the first point of contact.  It was accepted by all involved that effective communication was essential for the pilot to work and for members of the public to understand what the new process involved.  Regular update meetings were held to gauge the number of complaints received and to review comments received from Members and the public.  It was accepted that initially the messages provided were not as clear as they could have been and more work was required to identify potentially vulnerable persons.  This resulted in changes to the training of WRS Duty Officers to reinforce the correct message and information on the web site was amended as a result of the feedback received.  These areas of work were estimated to cost WRS around £25,000 - £40,000 with approximately150 to 200 complaints per year.  The figures for the relevant categories were compared with the same time period for the previous year, 10th June to 30th November 2013:


·         Complaints in 2012 numbered 59

·         Complaints in 2013 numbered 64


Of those 64 complaints, 30 were referred for self help. Of that 30, 15 complainants returned to WRS to deal with their complaint.  Of those 15 complainants referred to self help and who did not return to WRS, no feedback was received from local Members or staff to indicate that the complaints had not been satisfactory resolved without involving WRS.  Overall WRS dealt with 49 complaints compared with 59 the previous year, with 23% of this year’s complaints successfully diverted to self help.  The numbers coming in each year are roughly similar and so the self help route seems to be delivering real benefits.  Both WRS and Worcester City Council have reported that, following initial concerns, both the public and Members appeared to be happy with this new approach.



(a)  that the Worcester City Pilot report be noted.  Members agreed that the pilot had produced a model for real cashable savings in respect of the areas of nuisance covered during the pilot carried out by Worcester City Council and 17% efficiency savings for Worcester City Council in respect of planning application referrals;

(b)  that Worcester City Council be provided with in year 2013/2014, savings of £3,746 to be funded from a top-slice of the projected end of year underspend to reflect the changes in the service provided, and reflecting six months of savings during 2013/14; and

(c)  that preparatory work be undertaken by Worcestershire Regulatory Services in consultation with partners, to consider options for extending the concept of “self-help” into other areas of work.


RECOMMENDATION that all partner authorities consider introducing the Worcester City Council pilot methodology to their own organisations when dealing with planning consultations and introduce the self help element for certain classes of nuisance complaints.

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