Productivity of implementing organisations: generic average does not reflect complex reality

At the request of the House of Representatives, the Netherlands Court of Audit has investigated developments in the productivity of 12 implementing organisations. The selected organisations incurred operating costs of €9.6 billion in 2022. For the benefit of many millions of citizens and businesses, they implemented government policies worth many billions of euros. In the first phase of this audit, we studied existing public information. We were able to outline changes in the productivity of 6 of the organisations. We found an upward trend in productivity at the Tax and Customs Administration, the Immigration and Naturalisation Service (IND), the Social Insurance Bank (SVB) and the Employee Insurance Agency (UWV), and a downward trend at the Central Judicial Collection Agency (CJIB) and the Central Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers (COA).

Increase in productivity

Increase in productivity

Decrease in productivity

Decrease in productivity

No generic average

Each implementing organisation works in its own complex context, with its own distinctive products and target groups. This makes it difficult to compare their productivity. The Court of Audit is therefore wary of calculating a generic average for all implementing organisations.

Complexity of rules inhibits productivity

The growing complexity of laws and regulations is making the organisations’ work more complex. All the organisations said complexity influenced their productivity. A 2022 report on the provision of public services also named complexity as a serious problem. This is illustrated by the IND. It concluded from a recent study that there had been a sharp rise in the complexity of asylum files. This is due in part to changes in Dutch and European laws and regulations. IND officers must now take more steps and follow more detailed procedures to arrive at a decision on asylum applications. The number of punctuation marks per file, an indicator of file length, has more than doubled over the years.

Length of IND asylum files more than doubled

Length of IND asylum files more than doubled

Implementing organisations say quality and productivity at odds with each other

The meaning of ‘quality’ is moulded by public pressure and political priorities. Since the child benefit scandal, for instance, the human dimension has been high on the political agenda. Eight of the organisations we audited said quality and productivity were at odds with each other. However, little public information is available on the quality of the organisations’ work. The studies we examined give no indication of a positive or negative correlation between productivity and quality.

Productivity influenced by external factors

The available studies and our talks with implementing organisations suggest a number factors influence productivity. One is the economy. If economic performance is weak, the UWV has to work harder because more people are unemployed. But in the same circumstances, the CJIB has less work because people travel less and there are therefore fewer speeding tickets. Legal and regulatory changes and budget cuts also influence productivity. Several organisations named the tight labour market and the political wish for more personalised services as factors that affected their performance.  However, few studies have been carried out of factors that the organisations themselves can influence, such as IT policy, HR policy and internal management.

Audit in 2 phases

To maximise the added value of its work, the Court is performing this audit in 2 phases. In this first phase, we studied only public information and held talks with the organisations themselves. The aim of the second phase is to give the House of Representatives a more detailed picture of productivity at a number of implementing organisations and to put it into perspective. Implementing organisations say they have a wealth of information internally and therefore a better understanding  of their own performance. We will use this information in phase 2 of the audit.

More attention from parliament, more leeway for implementing organisations

The audit findings provide opportunities for both the House and the implementing organisations to improve productivity. The House could pay more attention to its role as a co-legislator and offer implementing organisations more leeway to gain a fuller understanding of their productivity and of the context in which they work. The organisations could then make this information public.