Many outsourcing decisions are made with a view to achieving better service through shortened time frames and reduced costs. However, these improvements can only be achieved if the council actively manages a number of issues including:
Time frame commitments are essential when outsourcing contracts to ensure compliance with the council's needs. The addition of extra resources can also help a council meet or improve time frames on the full range of 'current' applications. This usually occurs through outsourcing a number of less complex applications, allowing staff to concentrate on the more difficult applications.
The use of contractors for short-term assistance can result in additional costs because of the time spent by both council and contractor to come up to speed on council processes.
Many aspects of the consent processing administration will still need to be carried out by council staff. Tasks that will almost always be retained by a council will include dealing with initial applicant enquiries, receipt of applications, initial checking and entry into the council's systems, peer review, decision making, receipting deposits and/or invoicing applicants, maintaining the council's file system, and ss35 and 35A monitoring and record-keeping requirements.
Ensuring internal and external costs for the same services are comparable. As planning departments provide a range of services, council time recording systems can fail to capture every activity associated with a particular consent. In addition, the treatment of disbursements such as travel costs, photographs and postage can differ, as can calculations of what is 'overhead' including what is an appropriate cost share of building costs and administrative management. If in doubt, consider getting cost comparisons undertaken by independent financial experts.
It is important to have realistic expectations as to the relationship between quality, time frames and cost. Is it realistic to expect an outsourced service to be faster, cheaper, and of higher quality?