Continuous improvement in building control

22.08.2017
News
Surveyor and builder

LABC's Lorna Stimpson explains how LABC is responding to the need for standardised practices across the profession. (Published in RICS Building Control Journal). 

Increasingly, the building industry has become part of a wider national and international business involving many large manufacturers, distributors, professional designers, architects, engineers, property owners, developers, main contractors and subcontractors.

In the public sector, this means that the supply chain, products, software, guidance and portals are all shared by inner-city boroughs, unitary counties and small rural district councils, even at the level of minor domestic work and single house builds. As approved inspectors are not tied to political boundaries, clients can easily switch building control providers.

As a result, there needs to be more consistency among practices, otherwise different clients could end up being offered different types and standards of building control.

Advisory standards

Until the late 1990s, local authorities measured themselves against one another quite successfully using a performance matrix. With the growth of competition among building control bodies however, Building Control Performance Standards were drawn up by a Steering Group made up of the Construction Industry Council, the Local Government Association and the Association of Consultant Approved Inspectors and the Performance Standards Working Group.

Performance Standards were first introduced in July 1999 and revised and updated by the Building Control Performance Standards Advisory Group (BCPSAG) in June 2006. most local authorities used these measures rather than running two sets.

However, the many functions required of local authority building control, such as escalated enforcement, dangerous structures, public protection, disabled facility grants and street naming, weren’t included – no AI’s don’t undertake these functions so they weren’t included as measures

While contributing to the debate around and development of new BCPSAG standards, LABC started to consult members on creating public service-specific performance standards and benchmarking. Feedback was very clear: LABC members wanted a deeper standards framework for all aspects of local authority building control, one which would also measure outcomes and effectiveness in ways that could be linked to improvement plans.

We at LABC believe the whole point of performance measurement is to provide a model for continuous improvement, to mitigate weaknesses and to link standards to competencies, learning pathways and career planning.

We also believe they should take into consideration all beneficiaries of building control, including the building user, and not just the business customer. LABC has therefore addressed standards in the round, accounting for all local authority duties.

Universal standards

In discussions around the country, it was clear that while local authorities have the right to do things their own way, LABC members believe it would be better if there was a recognised framework of universally consistent standards, together with a common manual explaining what a local authority building control team should do.

Defining essential practices, the standard to which they should be performed and how to ensure they are met is a huge task across 320 teams made up of a total of 3,000 people. It would be a challenging task in the corporate sector – but at least business leaders have direct power. LABC on the other hand has to engage and gain support from every local authority before performance standards can be rolled out and subsequently measured.

It has therefore created a formal standards committee and a pilot working group that has quickly established an outline of the framework to speed up development. The committee comprises LABC’s regional chairs, to help ensure each region sustains consistent standards, with the option of appointing specialists if we need them.

The whole package was explained to LABC members at our spring conference, since when we have been defining the framework – looking at local authority ethics, surveying, administration, customer service, enforcement, dangerous structures, records and technical decision-making – and identifying essential practices.

As far as possible, we aim to incorporate relevant parts of BCPSAG standards so that eventually all local authorities will be working on just one quality management system and the data required by the group can be submitted centrally.

We are also actively working with software providers to help make the reporting as seamless and easy as possible, and we see them as essential to the preparation of and compliance with standards to ensure continuous improvement.

A big challenge for LABC is to make sure that there is a training mechanism to support the new performance standards framework. So at the same time as creating the framework, LABC also invested in a learning management system and recruited expertise to generate digital content with robust evaluation.

We have also made an agreement with the University of Wolverhampton and together we are looking to create academic qualifications at undergraduate and graduate levels. None of this would be credible without a robust audit, so we have chosen ISO 9001 (2015), and are working with our ISO partner to put this in place as we bring the framework and associated learning on stream.

Further information

Read about LABC's qualifications pathway and watch some videos on our Standards framework.

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