Posted tagged ‘efficiency’

The collapse of the corporate centre

August 15, 2011

Something not to throw away!

‘Never throw away your old drain-pipes’

My university lecturer was not talking about guttering but about the fashionable uber-skinny jean which had been in and out of fashion many times in his lecturing career. His argument was that if you follow local government you should be prepared to see ideas, structures and policies come in and out of fashion.

Never has a wiser word been said and as goes drainpipe trousers so goes the corporate centre within local authorities.

During the early 2000s the inspection and performance management regimes of the Labour Government were in full swing and the Audit Commission was constantly driving local authorities to improve their ‘corporate capacity’. The rationale for this was that councils were showing weak leadership from the Chief Executive down; decisions weren’t joined up and policy decisions weren’t being made from a structures evidence base.

What followed was a substantial investment in policy and performance teams. Allied to this was a renewed focus on engaging the public so added to this new central function was an investment in community engagement expertise and communications teams. On top of this was a new focus on working in partnership with local providers and a commitment to meet the Government’s equalities agenda so these teams were added to the corporate centre along with the recently amended committee teams now embarking on the new world of scrutiny.

Councils were asked to focus on centralising certain functions and teams like procurement, business improvement and project management were added to the centre; often grouped together with the others in a Chief Execs department or a deputy chief deputy chief execs team in some bigger authorities.
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Local Government by contract?

April 11, 2011

Beyond the known knowns?

“Stuff Happens” (Donald Rumsfeld)

“When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?” (John Maynard Keynes)

Forgive the diversion into quotes from yester-year but I hope they will help me ask a simple question about the outsourcing of council services.

This past week I have been knee deep in a contract with an external service provider of my local authority. This contract is for a substantial period of time and yet already we are in the position of needing to change something.

Obviously, needing to change something is going to cost us money. Even the most friendly contractor does, in my experience, require a certain amount of money to change anything they’d originally agreed to do.

The assumption of a lot of outsourcing is therefore that:

a)      Any changes can be predicted in advance and therefore written into a contract or:

b)      The service is so straightforward that we won’t need to change anything significant no matter how long the period of the contract

My experience is that this is not always the case.

I heard of a council that felt they had managed to negotiate an amazing deal. In 2007 (ish) they let a ten year contract that promised 2.5% efficiencies per year over the term of the deal. In 2011, they now realise that the deal is not delivering anything like what they need it to in terms of cuts/efficiencies and are not having much luck in renegotiating. What they thought was a great deal is now anything but. (more…)

If a job’s worth doing, do it properly

January 6, 2011

Let's see some proper ideas for a change

I noticed this article recently, which discusses the fact that most Chief Execs won’t take a pay cut as demanded by DCLG.  I can imagine Eric Pickles’ rage and fury that an edict he has issued has been summarily ignored by those in the field.

To be honest, and I’m not going to make friends here, I can see the Chief Execs points.  The cutting of their salary by 5% is hardly going to make much of a difference in the grand scheme of things, and is nothing more than a token gesture of solidarity.  In fact it’s not even a very good gesture – if I saw my own chief exec taking a 5% cut I’d still be aware that their remaining 95% was ample to support their lifestyles.

This is typical of the small-mindedness and headline grabbing attention that is getting local government nowhere.  People aren’t worried about whether their chief execs get paid £142,500 or £150,000, they are worried about whether or not four out of five of their team will be made redundant within a few months.

This spending review, and the restructures that go with it, are a chance for us to really look at what services local government should actually really be providing, and to what standards.  We should be looking at the things people need rather than the things people want, or even the things we want to deliver because either they sound good or because we have always provided them in the past.  If a service is needed – and I mean really needed, not just desired – then we should be keeping it and delivering it to at least acceptable if not good standards.  If not, then let’s look at other ways of providing it or simply letting it go.

Instead, from my own experience we are doing none of this.  We are looking at the people in our teams, picking those that we like or those projects which have received a positive response from the media or our bosses and also looking at power bases.  Senior managers are not doing anything which will jeopardise their own status or job security (as demonstrated by Camden in my opinion), and in fact are doing all they can to be the last ones standing.

If we keep focussing on easy targets, like how much a single member of staff is getting paid, we are missing whatever chance we had of making something positive out of this awful financial situation.  Let’s stop looking at a single twig and look at the whole forest.

When is an efficiency not an efficiency?

November 1, 2010

A bright idea in an efficient age...

I had an eventful day last week and for some reason it has taken me ten days to process it into actual thought. I was being trained as part of our council’s commitment to identifying waste and delivering efficiency within services.

The word ‘efficiency’ here is the important one. When most people us the word efficiency they usually mean doing the same thing with less inputs. This common understanding allows the Government to constantly claim large ‘efficiency’ savings without the public asking the question; ‘if services are £25 billion cheaper what are the Government not doing any more?’

George Osborne announced £4 billion worth of savings in central Government administration as part of the CSR. I’m sure most neutral observers thought ‘Hurrah, more money for the NHS’ or something similar.

The problem with all this ‘efficiency’ is that the sheer amount of it tends to devalue the term a little. No-one really believed that Gordon Brown’s pre-election efficiency commitment and to be honest I doubt that many people believed George Osborne with his £4 billion. (more…)

CSR related fashion crimes?

October 28, 2010

I was a Blur fan.....

The mid-90s spawned many things to be remembered fondly; Fresh Prince of Bel Air, the World Wide Web, Street Fighter 2 and the Blur Vs Oasis Wars to name but a few.  However, one of the things less noted in a positive sense was its style.

The big, baggy suit was still in vogue, along with the grunge scene popularised by Nirvana and some frankly disgraceful sequined combinations my sister tried to leave the house wearing.

I only bring this up because I fear that these may be making something of a comeback.  Over the past week or two I’ve noticed an increase in the number of solid colour shirts being sported by male colleagues around the office.  I’m not talking pastels in some nice, sharp styles; I’m talking about bright red, petrol blue and mustard yellow, all with a degree of baggyness that would have Madness opining about their trousers. (more…)

20/10 Vision

October 19, 2010

Can we really look to the future when most of us are more short sighted?

I sat down at my keyboard today and very quickly became confused.  Nothing to do with the constant switch between Firefox or IE8 (which I use at home and everywhere else) and IE6 (which I am still forced to use at work despite it being nine years old); no, this confusion was down to the content of this post.

Part of me wanted to write about a couple of interesting little things which have happened around the office; the return of a significant colleague to the team after a secondment, the development of a very interesting programme here, a crazy conversation overheard in the toilets involving a gun (I kid you not).

Another part of me wanted to comment on the major, major changes that will be happening in just a few days, thanks to the Comprehensive Spending Review.  Or perhaps about the ‘bonfire of the quangos’, which to all intents and purposes is less of a bonfire and more of a spreading of the ashes.

Then I realised that this confusion is actually symptomatic of local government at the minute.  We are being encouraged to keep focussed on the little things and keep working hard, whilst being aware of (but ignoring to some extent) the fact that 20,000 quango staff and Osbourne only knows how many colleagues will potentially be out of work. (more…)

Hold on lads, I’ve got an idea

August 26, 2010

The classic phrase is something along the lines of ‘if you put a million monkeys in front of a million typewriters for an infinite amount of time, eventually one will reproduce the complete works of Shakespeare’.  Well, if apparently if you ask 65m people to come up with ideas for cutting the national defecit and saving money you’ll get a seemingly endless numbers of suggestions (whittled down to about 45,000 so far), both weird and wonderful.

In case you’ve missed it, the government have been asking people online to come up with any and all ideas for ways to cut costs, and boy have the people responded.  Interestingly, apparently two-thirds of suggestions have come from public sector staff (although take with a pinch of salt any piece of information presented with the word ‘apparently’ as a precursor).

There are literally tens of thousands of suggestions on the site, many of which are repeats, racist, xenophobic or just plain stupid.  However, there are some real gems in there, with some so basic and easy to do it really made me scratch my head and try to justify why they have yet to be done. (more…)


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