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Conflicting Interests Paper

The South Team appears to effectively manage their operation by way of clearly defined management structure thus providing basic lines for reporting monitoring and accountability which are then co-ordinated by the team leader. Mullins (2005:597) goes on to say that these objectives provide the criteria for structural effectiveness. Structure though is not an end in itself but a means of providing organisational performance.

Managing performance is tackled on two fronts by the Development Control Group that includes the South Team one being staff related and the other work related. For the purpose of this report it is Best Value Performance Management and the Performance Development Grant (PDG) that is being examined. Best Value was introduced for larger councils by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM) in 1999 whereby the Council is required to produce an enormous amount of performance information every year aimed at helping to measure progress in delivering Corporate Priorities.

There are approximately 350 performance indicators (PIs) published each year. The PIs include a large set of statutory measures or Best Value Performance Indicators (BVPIs) which allows councils to benchmark their performance nationally. The Best Value Performance Indicators set by the Office of Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM:2005) for 2005/2006 are shown in (Appendix B) and are entitled BV109a 109b 109c and BV204 and 205. These targets statutorily set down the parameters and the criterions for each of the five planning benchmarks.

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In adapting to the Best Performance culture set down by government the South Team have had the opportunity through the operation of the development control performance officer to re-evaluate each of their working practices. (Page 5) As a result they have made changes to both the implementation and processing of case work. They are able to react much more quickly to seasonal trends and changes in personnel. Elected members and public alike are able to be made more aware of what the south team accomplishes simply because they the team are better able to assess and monitor their performance and their targets.

Due to exceeding the targets set in the previous financial year North Somerset received a planning delivery grant of i?? 440,000 which allowed them to invest in an IT system for planning. Mullins says (2005:145) “if you do not know where you are going you cannot tell if you have arrived”. It is important therefore that an organisation has goals and objectives that are not only attainable but also sustainable. North Somerset interprets this goal in its vision “to be an excellent council” and by one of its aims which is “to protect and improve the quality of its natural and built development”.

These goals and objectives can only be accepted as being achieved if they are regularly monitored and evaluated against set targets. The targets however are those set down by government and in doing so could be accused of controlling performance whereby cash incentives (PDFs) will only be earned if the contributing council can prove that they have achieved the performance levels set. This could well lead the South Team in not consulting the public/elected member fully within the allotted time in order to comply with the time limits specified on certain types of planning applications.

In turn this could lead to potential conflict of interest. There are a number of areas of potential conflict that the South Team need to manage on a regular basis which are in themselves created from the need to accede to external targets. Within the South Team there are officers who are required to reflect differing professional attitudes to a single planning application such as Conservation – Building Control – Transport -Sites of Special Scientific Interests (SSIs) Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) to name a few.

All of which could potentially lead to conflict. Because of the team approach they are not deemed as being areas of conflict but rather a joint professional response arrived by consensus. The investigation has shown that so long as continuing checks and balances are taken by the officers involved and that the team remains flexible by working to a common goal then conflicts can be kept to a minimum. The existence of government PDGs can also produce areas of potential conflict between the group’s performance officer and the individual departmental officer.

The need to make target could produce a more pressing need not to fully examine all areas of concern when considering an individual planning application. It is imperative that the South Team keeps the performance officer fully aware of the progress of the case work to hand and any likely stumbling blocks to a targeted conclusion. This underlines Mullins (2005:86) approach when he says that the unitary approach is when the organisation is viewed as a team with a common source of loyalty – one focus of effort and one accepted leader.

A District Councillor can if they so wish “call an application in” which in effect takes the final decision away from the officer and this in itself can lead to a possible delay – outside the target time. It could possibly result in a different decision being reached than that originally recommended by the South Team. This could ultimately lead the application into the scenario of an appeal situation which then sets down whole new criteria for target achieving.

The conflict of interest then becomes even more complicated if the District Councillor concerned is dual hatted that is to say represents more than one decision making authority. The well documented legislation entitled “The Local Authorities (Model Code of Conduct)(England) Order 2001 was designed to resolve these sorts of issues. In practice it has often created more difficulties and indeed in some cases not truly helped to provide a democratic process. Communication Effective communication depends on the right people getting the right information in the right form at the right time (Adirondack 1998:51)

The South Team through the South Area Committee communicates the decision of the officers and elected members by way of committee minutes. This includes a regular report at the foot of the minutes of the performance in respect to applications that have reached a decision and the percentage decided upon within the targeted period. (Appendices C&D) This information is available by direct circulation to elected members and by way of downloading from the Council’s web site Conclusion

The major outcome of this report shows that there is a very fine line between government and democracy in respect to the day to day operations of the South Team due to imposed targets. It also quite clear that if the South Team with their colleagues in the Development Control Group is able to demonstrate that they have attained those targets they can secure substantial grant funding through central government. This provides further opportunities to improve on the service that they provide to the community they serve.

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