One of the recurring debates that has rumbled through the regulatory professions for as long as I can remember is the question of size, more specifically what is the minimum size a regulatory service needs to be in order to function properly. The fact that the question has never been answered has served as a source of much frustration to government officials and politicians alike but such inconclusiveness is not without good reason.
Rather than ‘transactional’ type services such as contact centres, revenues and benefits etc, where the resources required to process the demand of its users can be predicted with reasonable certainty, regulatory services use a combination of preventative and reactive interventions in order to drive outcomes. So the response to the question of size should be met with a simple answer; how ambitious do we want to be?
The problem is that whatever the size of the service, austerity cuts have often left very little resource for the basics - let alone contingencies such as unexpected incidents, emergencies or complex investigations. This can often leave councils and their customers exposed. Some colleagues realise that individual councils don’t have to deliver everything themselves and as commissioning becomes a more comfortable term. This is bringing with it a new range of efficiencies that will form part of the answer.
Partnerships in regulatory services – such as our own with North Tyneside Council - do not operate in isolation from each other. Quite the opposite - they are forming a network that can mobilise resource where it needs to be any particular time. This allows future partners to commission individual activities or just call upon the network at times of unexpected demand, rather than absorb the cost of employing highly skilled officers on a permanent or temporary basis. Turning the resource flow ‘on and off’ like this keeps the service as efficient as possible.
As the sector matures, commissioning is likely to become more sophisticated and be outcome rather than activity based; increasing the survival rates of SME’s in the borough, reducing availability of illicit tobacco; and reducing the number of older people going into residential care to name a few. Such cross-sector outcome based approaches will transfer risk to the provider and force cross agency collaboration in a way the sector has not seen before. This in turn will stimulate investment and innovation for the benefit of not just local government but for the citizens and businesses we all serve.
So perhaps services of the future will operate with smaller core teams of varying sizes, teams made up of expert regulatory commissioners as well as practitioners who know what interventions will produce the desired outcomes but one that makes better use of our collective national workforce. Smaller they may be, but regulatory services able to flex in this way will lose nothing in terms of resilience and capability.
Andy Foster is director of regulatory services at Capita. He was a speaker at the Trading Standards Institute’s Year Ahead Conference 2015 conference on Thursday 05 February.
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