Assessing alternative levels of service

This article explores the process for considering alternative levels of service (LOS) and comparing them with existing levels. LOS are the measures of outputs a customer receives from a service. Defining and measuring LOS are integral to a council’s performance management and strategic asset planning processes.

The first step is to understand and document the existing LOS. This may be expressed in terms of quantity, quality, timeliness, reliability, responsiveness, and accessibility. An example is ‘how long does it take to deliver the output and how long do people wait?’

When reviewing LOS, it is important to consider community and customer needs. As an example services rated by the community as high satisfaction and low importance may be candidates for reducing LOS.

The fundamental question that is being considered is: ‘what level of service should be provided by the council?’ This is separate to the question: ‘how is the service to be delivered?’ which is covered in a future article. The broad options to consider are:

  • Provide no service (i.e. discontinue the service)
  • Provide a lower LOS (eg reduce frequency of outputs)
  • Provide the same LOS
  • Provide a higher LOS (eg increase quality of outputs)

The LOS is expressed under each of these options, to enable a comparison to be made and selection of an optimum LOS for each service.

Research has shown that it is a very difficult for service review teams to consider and justify reductions in service levels. The natural tendency is to retain or increase service levels due to the constant demands for improved services. To help drive the assessment of the lower LOS option, a target reduction in the service annual expenditure may be set (eg 20%).

The following are examples of issues and implications to consider for each option:

  • What will be the effect on meeting statutory or regulatory requirements? Are there alternative ways of meeting these requirements?
  • What will be the effect on community outcomes, eg average grass length may increase and affect sporting events?
  • What would be the likely community reaction to the change in LOS? Reference should be made to previous community surveys and feedback to gauge the reaction.
  • Will there be long-term consequences in relation to the council’s strategic directions, eg environmental, economic, and social wellbeing? What will be the effect on meeting the identified strategies, actions, objectives and targets identified in plans?
  • Are there feasible alternative non-council means for meeting the community’s needs?
  • Could community members efficiently make their own arrangements, taking into account the cost and complexity involved with private arrangements?
  • Are there other agencies authorised to provide the service? Do authorised agencies currently provide the service?
  • Are there alternative private providers eg privately owned pools and carparks?
  • Are there commercial reasons for providing the service, eg income generation? Would a reduction in service level and expenditure lead to an adverse effect in terms of income generation?
  • What will be the effect on council resources? Will there be changes in staff positions and potential industrial relations issues? Will there be a change in asset usage or a need to dispose of assets? Will there be an effect on other support functions?
  • What will be the financial implications?

The SmartGov Team