Changes to the 2015 quality survey

We’ve been getting some solid feedback on the customer surveys from the councils already involved in the Quality Framework. We’ve now made some changes to the surveys based on this feedback – from small typos to substantive changes, that we hope will help make some of the questions much clearer in their meaning and intention.

The biggest concern for many of you was the ‘review’ question (Q6). This has now been changed to read “Are you happy for the council to contact you about your responses to this survey?” which should remove any suggestion that a review of the council’s decision is available via the survey.

You can see a demonstration version of the updated survey here. All of the changes are also listed below if you’d like to read on.

Do let us know if you there are further things you think we can improve upon. We’re also happy to get you set up on the system if you’re not already on board. Email us at:

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Testimonial: Martin Vink – Ashford

“Most importantly [The Quality Framework] shows in a short easy to understand report the current state of the service, provides comparison with others, and an early warning of changes which impact on customers”.

Martin Vink, Development Control Manager – Ashford Borough Council.

This is Quality (Part Three)

Part 1 of this series introduced the Planning Quality Framework – the antidote to target based performance management. Part 2 explained how we’d made the framework ‘modular’ and much easier to engage with.

In Part 3 I’ll take you through what the framework actually is, explain a bit more about each module, how it all fits together and show you some of the newer outputs we’re developing.

How the Framework ‘works’



The framework brings 3 sets of data together in one place:

1) Facts: What does the data from our management system tell us?

2) Opinions: What do customers say and think about us?

The greatest compliment ever paid me was when someone asked me what I thought, and attended to my answer.

Henry David Thoreau

3) Development quality: How good are proposals and what eventually gets built?

It turns these 3 sets of data into…


A rounded (i.e. not just speed) set of measures set out in:

• Quarterly performance reports
• Annual performance report
• Bespoke localised reports (we’ll send you a database so you can create your own bespoke, local reports).


The reports help you focus on what’s important, to re-think what you do, and look for opportunities for…

Service Improvement

• Good practice
• Improvement support
• Peer-to-peer learning.

It’s Sector-led

The content of the framework has been developed with the help of the sector. To date, approximately 20 councils have piloted the first part (data). We are currently, with their help, putting the finishing touches on the reports, benchmarked against others.

We are currently testing the surveys with the help of Hastings Borough Council. The surveys capture the views and feedback of a variety of ‘customers’ of the planning service including applicants/agents, neighbours, councillors and staff.


The quality aspect is in two parts. The first is a review of the quality of the planning service itself – managers will review and score the council’s role (e.g. ‘did we negotiate well?’), processing specific applications. The second is a review of quality of the planning decisions on Major developments using a framework used by Camden and based on CABE’s Building for Life criteria.

This data schematic explains how the different data sets fit together:


We’ve only just begun

The “quality” parts of the framework will take time to filter through as we rely on councils to spend time collecting evidence about developments. This will also grow into something more valuable as we develop the framework to go beyond analysing transactions and get to thinking about whole developments. We can’t ignore costs forever either and may suggest a time-sheeting exercise every 2 or 3 years.

Reports – some new ways of looking at ourselves

The Framework reports will provide a rounded picture of what is happening in the service (I’ll blog here with more detail in August). The reports will be tailored for different audiences, and we are experimenting with some new views – here are a few examples:

(i) Development Investment – helping councils understand the investment value tied up in the applications they are processing at any one time:


The ‘Investment estimate’ is based on the build costs for different types of development – these are just PAS estimates for now, so are illustrative only. In this example, the trend is that development investment is going down, but even at its lowest point, this planning department is managing development applications that represent a £20 million investment in this place. Powerful stuff.

(ii) FTE Estimate over Time – how well matched are resources to work volumes?


The ‘FTE estimate’ plot is based on PAS 2012 Benchmark data. Marrying this data together with application volumes, fee income trends and the development investment data, adds a little ‘piquancy’ to many of the resourcing decisions facing the service. It may highlight a number of opportunities to re-focus resources.

(iii) The concept of ‘non-value’ work

A lot of the ‘applications’ in your management system aren’t. Many are what we have re-named “follow-ups” – things like discharge of conditions, and there are certifications and prior approvals. Conditions represent additional work and their inappropriate use is a continuing bug-bear of many customers. We should pay more attention to how we use conditions and on what types of development – the Quality Framework reports will allow you to do so:


The above picture is for Householder applications. I hope that Council ‘I’ is having problems with its data rather than over half of its householder applications having conditions attached.

This is Quality (Part Two)

Planning Quality Framework: flexible…agile…worthwhile

In my previous blog, I introduced the Planning Quality Framework – the antidote to target-based performance management and a neat path to true continuous improvement. Since then I have had a number of people ask how the Quality Framework differs from our previous benchmark and, please could we make it a bit simpler?

Well we have, in a number of ways. It’s modular, so you can choose how much you do. It’s not timetabled so you can choose when you do it. It’s low-hassle – the emphasis has moved away from cost so there’s no need to train whole departments to time-record and re-classify work, or learn the language that accountants speak in.

The whole is more than the sum of its parts… (Aristotle)

Each module is valuable in it’s own right but is not the whole story. The real value comes when you draw all three together – how many expensive process reviews focus solely on speeding things up but fail to notice that the service says ‘yes’ more often than its peers, creates less waste and has happier customers? The quality framework reports will show a much more rounded story of what’s happening and which way the service is heading.

Like most things in life, the more you put in, the more you get out. You don’t have to do everything at once or follow a timetable, but the more you do the better the value. Any timetabling PAS suggests will be so that we can provide support but it’s not compulsory. It’s a bit like the self-service tills at the supermarket – you can get on and away quickly but if you need someone to sort that ‘unidentified item in the bagging area’ or confirm your age, then you may have to wait. For example, we may suggest a customer survey in November but you already do one every June – fine, we’ll slot your results in when they’re ready.

How the Planning Quality Framework is different from the PAS Benchmark:

PAS Benchmark          Quality Framework
You have to do it all It’s got 3 modules – the more you do; the better the value
All together, once per year, and if you miss the boat – tough You just begin, when you’re ready.
A snapshot in time Ongoing, quarterly and annual reporting
Based on understanding and improvement Based on understanding and improvement
Industrial strength accounting, time-sheeting Low hassle, no time sheeting
Internal management tool Internal management tool, external badge of quality

This is Quality (Part One)

Continuous improvement built on understanding

Quality is now in the eye of the beholder. To provide a quality planning service, you don’t need to achieve a certain number or hit a target. You need to understand two things:

1. what makes your customers happy
2. what annoys them.

You then measure things that tell you if your service is achieving the former/avoiding the latter.

Sound simple?

Well PAS is launching the Planning Quality Framework in September 2014 to see just how simple we can make this.

Boiled down, the framework is a simple set of tools and techniques that helps councils to:

  • understand customer’s expectations about ‘good’ and ‘quality’ service
  • understand their own and stakeholder’s expectations about quality development
  • create a set of measures to tell if it’s being achieved
  • make reports that explain what’s happening to a variety of audiences
  • act; understand, learn, experiment, improve.

‘Good Quality Service’ – making the words jump off the page

For too long we have been using words like ‘quality’ and ‘continuous improvement’ as adjectives – ways to describe what we are and what quality service is and looks like. It is time for these words to become verbs – something that we do and has associated action(s).

So, instead of the Government, the Director or the bland set of words in the service plan describing what they think ‘good’ and ‘quality’ is, the framework gets the views of applicants, agents, neighbours, objectors, members and staff. They know much more about this.

It creates more useful measures e.g. how long do things really take, how much certainty do you provide and how much waste do you create ? Then, most importantly for me, it produces reports for your ‘audiences’ – helping you tell them what’s happening and what you’re doing about the things they care about most.