Improved public supervision?
The costs of supervision have increased considerably since 2012
The total cost of central government and municipal supervision has more than doubled since 2002. For 2018, it is expected to amount to at least SEK 10 billion, of which the central government supervisory agencies (including the county administrative boards) account for SEK 6.3 billion. The costs of the central supervisory agencies alone amounted to almost SEK 6 billion, which can be compared with approximately SEK 2 billion in 2002. Costs are also incurred by those subject to supervision, but these costs are difficult to calculate.
Supervision costs a lot of money, but in terms of the total costs of operations, costs are not startlingly high. The costs of school, health and social care alone amounted to over SEK 830 billion in 2018.
There has been a call for supervision that contributes more to learning and operations development
The discussion on supervision has a completely different focus today than in 2012 when the Agency for Public Management produced the study Tänk till om tillsynen (Consider the Supervision). At that time, the discussions to a large extent concerned problems that could arise if the supervisory agency mixed its supervisory remit with tasks such as advisory services and support, licensing and standard setting. Now discussions are often about how supervision can better contribute to the development and improvement of the supervised operations. The demand for supervision that contributes more to learning and operations development has been made visible in the public debate and in research, but also in the operations that are supervised.
The supervisory agencies have developed their methods in response to the criticism
Our case studies show that the discussions on supervision that provides more learning has influenced the supervisory agencies to varying degrees. The supervisory agencies in particular that have developed their operations in response to the criticism that has been made are those operating in school education and health care and social services – the Swedish Schools Inspectorate and the Health and Social Care Inspectorate. These agencies are currently striving to make supervision more operationally adapted, dialogue-based and user-friendly, in order to contribute to operations development.
Lessons learned from developments
An important lesson from our study is that effective supervision must be adapted to the operations to be supervised. The operations supervised are often quite different from each other. This has consequences for the design and implementation of supervision. The fact that the perception and regulation of how supervision is to be conducted varies between different supervisory agencies is also shown in our studies of the Swedish Schools Inspectorate, the Health and Social Care Inspectorate, Finansinspektionen (the financial supervisory authority) and the Medical Products Agency.
More qualitative supervision can improve the accuracy of supervision and reduce the administrative burden
We believe that supervision focused on more qualitative aspects can be more accurate and reduce the administrative burden for those subject to supervision. By prioritising dialogue and oral communication at the expense of written documentation, the agencies can direct the supervision towards the values that are important for those subject to supervision. The Health and Social Care Inspectorate and the Swedish Schools Inspectorate are examples of supervisory agencies that have gone in this direction.
The agencies need to develop and review their selection methods
Increasingly comprehensive supervision requires the development of the methods for selecting objects of supervision – to conduct risk analyses. However, the conditions for developing risk analyses vary, as agencies' knowledge of objects of supervision also varies. It may also be difficult to evaluate and compare different risks. It is therefore important that the agencies systematically evaluate the risks and continuously revise their methods for selection, so that these are accurate.
A realistic view of what supervision can achieve is needed
Finally, we want to emphasise that a more realistic view of supervision as a policy instrument is needed. Supervision is an important instrument of control, but supervision cannot solve fundamental problems and deficiencies in an operation. Supervision can show the possible consequences of a particular deficiency, but the solution must always be achieved with other instruments.