Tiffany Cloynes looks at the wider lessons for service delivery to be learned from the approach adopted by an East of England council to the allocation of housing.
Recent reports on the approach taken by Great Yarmouth Borough Council to allocating housing has shown the difference an innovative approach can make to achieving results.
The council moved away from the choice-based lettings system to a system in which officers discussed with people who were on its housing waiting list what their needs were and how these could be most effectively addressed. In some cases, a place on the waiting list would not meet a person’s needs or resolve problems they were having but it would mean that others had to wait longer. It has been reported that the council’s change of approach was followed by a reduction in its waiting list and the number of appeals and an increase in satisfaction.
A change in housing allocations may not be appropriate or relevant for every local authority. Not all local authorities have responsibility for housing and among those that do there will be different circumstances and different needs of the people that they serve. However, the idea of reviewing your approach is an initiative which local authorities could usefully apply across a range of services. Developing innovative practices in service delivery could help them ensure they are meeting the needs of individuals and communities as effectively as possible, as well as helping them to manage their resources effectively.
When local authorities seek to develop innovative practices in service delivery, it will be important for them to recognise the needs of service users and take account of these when designing new approaches. In Great Yarmouth, the change in system followed a review and it was considered important to appraise the system from the perspective of the person involved. It is therefore important for local authorities to focus on the recipients of their services from the outset and throughout the process of making changes to service delivery.
Other points for local authorities to address when considering changing systems and introducing new practices are:
- The importance of developing business cases. Before a local authority introduces new arrangements, it should ensure that it understands the purpose of doing so, the advantages which could be achieved by doing so and the potential risks and disadvantages which need to be balanced against this. It will also need to know the resources which will be required and how it will be able to provide these. If a local authority does not have all relevant information, it will not be able to make a reasonable decision. Under those circumstances, it might not introduce the most appropriate and effective arrangements and its decision could be vulnerable to challenge.
- The relevance of consultation. Local authorities may be obliged to consult before making some changes – either because of a statutory obligation or because it has created a legitimate expectation or a lack of consultation would be so unfair as to amount to an abuse of process. An effective consultation can provide a local authority with useful information to help it plan service delivery but a flawed consultation and a failure to consult when necessary could make an authority’s decisions vulnerable to challenge. It will be important for local authorities to assess what their consultation obligations are and to take steps where necessary to carry out legally valid consultations.
- The need to identify and comply with any legal obligations. Local authority services are subject to regulatory requirements and local authorities have a range of overarching duties. If they change their ways of working, local authorities need to ensure that they do not leave any gaps in their compliance and that they monitor this on an ongoing basis.
- The impact of practical requirements. It will take time and resources to develop and implement innovative practices. Local authorities must identify and work to realistic timescales for introducing new arrangements if such arrangements are to work most effectively. Rushing to achieve a quick change will have limited long-term effect.
This article was originally published in Local Government Lawyer, and can be found here.