THE BLOG

More Haste, Less Speed

25/01/2013 09:41 GMT | Updated 26/03/2013 09:12 GMT

Politicians often feel the pressure to do things quickly, to display a sense of urgency. Yet so often, rushed decision making means they get it wrong. Unless they take steps to establish the impact of their proposals, how can they know that they will achieve their objectives? How can they be sure they will not actually harm people through attempting to do good?

After changes are made, do they evaluate them to see if they have worked? Do they care? There is undoubtedly a conflict here, as ministers may not wish to know that their policies are failing. After all, failure can be dressed up to look like success if you don't look too closely.

Solicitors were initially encouraged when the government committed to carrying out full evaluation of the existing process and electronic portal for low-value road traffic accident personal injury claims before taking a view on the decision to extend to other areas. This sounded like evidenced-based policy formation - checking the existing portal delivers its objectives before extending its remit. However, the full evaluation never happened, and within days of this commitment being made the date for the extension of the portal was announced. Clearly, evaluations take time to do properly, and it did not fit in their now urgent timescale.

Governments have to spend to save. Investing time and resources into carrying out a full evaluation will mean that the policy is as good as it can be, and that it will bring benefits for future generations. A rush to implementation, without gathering evidence, wastes money and opportunity for future generations. The cost of an irrational policy is almost always higher than the cost of an evaluation.

Worse still, the initial evaluation of the portal at the end of the first year gave clear warning signals that the portal might not be delivering its objectives - damages were falling by 6% and injured people received less than ever. At this point, many claims had gone into the portal but had yet to settle - this was just an early snapshot - and it was clear that more time was needed before a proper evaluation could be carried out and conclusion drawn. At the time, 50% of road traffic claims exited the portal process without settling. Now this figure is up to 65% and the cause has not been fixed.

So the government has now conceded that it should have undertaken a full evaluation. We welcome this news. Let's see whether the portal is truly delivering its objectives before we replicate it. Let's see if it needs improvement, and then commit to fixing it.

Once we prove we have a portal that works, we can consider extending it. Remember we are dealing with apples and pears here. Different types of claims will react in different ways so throwing employers' liability claims into a road traffic portal may not produce the same result. Liability issues, for example, may mean that far more claims fall out of the process than we can cope with. So, following the principles of evidence based decision making, it may be that a pilot is sensible - a small number of firms and insurers put their claims through the new protocol and portal, whilst others operate in the usual way. It can then be measured if claims become quicker and cheaper to run, whilst preserving the damages for the individual. If the pilot is a success, it can be rolled out with confidence and stakeholder backing.

But such approaches take time, which ministers are ill-inclined to give. Like football managers, few ministers get to stay in post long enough to see the consequences of their decisions. In the case of the claims process reforms, it is the injured person, and those solicitors who fight for them, who have to live with the repercussions.