Chief Reporter's Statement
During the past year I have been pleased to see DPEA operations transition back to normal, carefully following the lifting of wider Scottish Government pandemic restrictions. Staff have gradually returned to the office and are now trialling hybrid working. Reporters have resumed in-person site inspections where those are necessary, and the resumption of in-person hearings and inquiries is now being planned for.
As I reported last year, we have managed to provide continuity of service as restrictions have evolved, with no backlog of casework as we emerge from those restrictions. I have been immensely impressed by the flexible approach adopted by all staff and stakeholders to facilitate this.
This year has seen the retirement of Dan Jackman and Karen Black, both vastly experienced reporters who will be greatly missed. We have, however, filled those posts through external recruitment and have added five new reporters to the panel of self-employed reporters. For the first time in more than a year the casework team is also back to establishment numbers. I am hugely grateful to that team for successfully covering absences and vacancies for an extended period. I also expect that the Chief Reporter post will be substantively filled later this summer.
There will, however, be a challenging few years ahead. The division, like many others in Scottish Government, will experience real terms budget cuts for the next three years, which will means that we are intensifying initiatives already underway to introduce a more proportionate and efficient approach to our work, particularly so in inquiry and report casework. This work is already resulting in faster processing times for onshore wind proposals and contributing to the achievement of Scottish Government renewable energy targets.
In the year ahead I intend that DPEA will focus on maintaining good performance against targets. We will also continue to work with Planning, Architecture and Regeneration Division on planning modernisation, particularly contributing to preparation of NPF4 and development planning guidance, including introduction of the LDP gatecheck process. We continue to liaise with client divisions in preparation for the acceptance of new appeal streams, currently focussing on the workplace parking levy.
In addition, we have initiated discussion with stakeholders on our approach to hearings and inquiries. We recognise the benefits of in-person procedure, but do not want to lose the advantages of virtual procedure where that would be appropriate. This ties in also to the need to work more efficiently. We expect to publish a Guidance Note on our approach later this year.
Finally, I wish to draw attention to the DPEA Customer survey which was introduced earlier this year. Take-up of this so far has been disappointingly low. I encourage all users of our service to provide feedback so that we can continue to improve the experience of all stakeholders.
Scott M Ferrie
Interim Chief Reporter
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