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BRITE ideas

Working lives Environment Agency

How do you deliver a better service when your resources are diminishing but your customers' expectations are rising?

If you are the Environment Agency you completely re-think the way you do things.

Faced with an increasing burden of regulation plus demand from government, industry and the public for fuller, faster service, the Environment Agency has been under intense pressure to change the way it works.

Adding to its burden, in real terms its funding has been decreasing and is unlikely to be restored to its original level.

Resources within the organisation plus advice from outside consultants have been used to produce the BRITE strategy and structure - Better Regulation Improving the Environment.

The main thrust of BRITE has been organisational: The Agency now operates through five key business units. Policy develops the overall Agency strategy and decides how it will be delivered.

Teams within Process provide the procedures and technical support to the Delivery teams, who disseminate them to the regions.

Regional Strategy Units in the seven regional offices throughout England and Wales are responsible for liasing with local stakeholders and reporting on the state of the environment. Finally Area Operational Teams actually deliver the regulatory services.

'We've switched the emphasis to front line delivery, ' explains director of operations, Dr Paul Leinster. 'We are focusing on the product rather than the process.'

These moves have affected more than 5,000 people within the Agency, Leinster says, but the reaction has been 'quite positive'.

For some people the changes have been substantial. The area operational teams in particular have found their remit widened.

'They now deal with a wider range of issues in a much more integrated way, ' Leinster explains.

Leinster accepts the comparison with the production strategy adopted by car maker Volvo when it switched its workers from carrying out single, repetitive tasks to working in a group to build an entire vehicle. The Agency, like Volvo before it, has seen productivity climb as its employees feel more involved and in control of the projects they are handling, and boredom thresholds have been substantially raised.

The new wider remit approach is backed with an extensive and more structured training programme. However, there will be times when the teams will need to call on specialist skills from within the Agency. Leinster emphasises that the workforce is also home to specialists within their fields with the expertise to respond to particular client demands.

He adds that the skills mix within teams will vary from area to area, and is likely to evolve. He says, for example, that greater emphasis on agriculture is on the cards as the Agency tackles problems such as diffuse water pollution resulting from run-off from farm land, as demanded by the European Union Water Framework Directive. Areas affected by diffuse pollution will develop particular expertise, Leinster says.

BRITE has now been in place for around 18 months. A post project appraisal has revealed that there are still lessons to be learned and further changes to be made. 'But it's a question of fine-tuning rather than root and branch stuff.'

The ability to take a project right through from beginning to end - and hopefully, the satisfaction that brings with it - will remain with the operational teams. And the scope of their work is likely to grow still further, bringing more challenges, because, as Leinster puts it, 'There will always be more that we want to do for the environment'.

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