Posted tagged ‘public sector’

The three publics

April 25, 2012

Because penguins are much cuter than the public

There are hundreds and hundreds of ways to split up the local population. For every different service in local government there are different considerations to make and thus different ways to assess the members of the public that make up your customer base.

Despite the different methodologies there is probably one thing that we all, at least in part agree on; that it is important to understand the people you are meant to be serving.

In the private sector we would have a fairly simple starting point; we would want to keep current customers and then work hard to attract other customers.

In effect, the private sector organisation is dealing with two publics; those who use their service/product and those that don’t currently use the service/product but might.

In local authorities, and the public sector more generally, this situation is greatly complicated by a third public; those who have no need or interest in a specific public service but because they in some way contribute to it have an opinion which needs to be taken seriously. This method of splitting up the local population is a crude one but it can be instructive when trying to understand the political responses to service changes and the way that local authorities try to meet the needs of their local community.

1)    The public who use a service

We tend to be fairly good at collecting information about those who currently use our service, how they feel about it and what we could do to improve it. However, there are two problems with how we manage this public. Firstly, for services with a relatively small client group we tend to use the current service as the context and then talk to our customers about how it works and how it could be changed or improved. We rarely ask the bigger question of if the service was starting from scratch how would we design it and what would it look like?

The second struggle is where the services reach vast quantities of the public. For these services we often give them simultaneously too much focus (bin collection and potholes anyone?) and not enough detailed conversation with the public concerned. Thus, we will often spend lots of money on the services involved but perhaps won’t take the extra time to really make sure we are delivering the service the different parts of the community might need or want. In a funny way in these situations it seems that the public becomes too big for us to really handle.

2)    The public who don’t use a service but might do in the future

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You can’t put a price on geography

March 19, 2012

George Osborne and the North; a match made in...

At the time of the pre-budget report the Treasury hinted that they wanted to do away with local pay bargaining. Although the announcement was met with consternation in local government circles the fact that the treasury had said they were going to ‘investigate’ the issue rather than implement it meant that we all sort of treated it with a large shrug.

George Osborne is not a man to put up with shrugs and this weekend it was announced/leaked/trailed that he was planning to introduce regional pay across the public sector. Whilst I don’t think he has thought this through I guess that means that it might just be time to take the policy more seriously.

I have (at least) three concerns with the policy:

1)    The politics of envy

I live in London. I know why civil servants in the Treasury, who also do, might feel like this is a good policy.

I know that the salary I earn doesn’t go as far as it would if I lived in the same town as, say, my sister. I know that house prices are high, travel is expensive and commuting times are longer. I also know that friends of mine in London often earn more than me simply because of the career path they have chosen.

However, none of these things make the policy a good idea. I realise that the higher cost of living and the lower relative wages in my current home city are negatives but equally living in London is great in many other ways (not least the range of other job opportunities in the City) and I wouldn’t trade it in for living somewhere else with higher relative wages.

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Open Public Service White Paper: A Matrimonial View

July 20, 2011

Are they also discussing public service reform?

Its guest post time on WLLG and today’s post features the sort of ‘walking through the park’ conversation that would have Mr WLLG rolling his eyes. However, our guest poster uses an early evening stroll to try to get to grips with the risks and pitfalls of public service reform, coalition style. We think he does a good job:

The other day my wife and I were discussing public service reform as we strolled through our local park in the early evening sunshine. My wife is on maternity leave with our first born and has, through listening to radio 4 more regularly and utilising local services as a young mother, become more engaged in the political debates around public services.

She asked, prompted by the news of the new Open Public Service White Paper, what the incentive was for opening up public services to competition.

I said the short answer that proponents would give was that greater competition between providers to improve cost efficiency and to drive up quality. I said that there were already examples of many services being delivered by providers other than the state or local government. We then discussed the issue of how alternative providers can make money by offering economies of scale and more efficient ways of working that could allow them a margin to make a profit. Once Southern Cross entered the discussion, the subject of risk reared it’s arguably ugly head.

I quoted from a recent newspaper article that had, through FOI, retrieved some research commissioned for the Government that suggested one of the ways that private companies are able to make money is their ability to enter and leave a market at speed.

When an opportunity presents itself a fleet footed company will want to get in, without massive set up costs, and take advantage. If at some point an activity becomes less successful and unprofitable then the business can close down and invest its capital in more successful ventures.

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The real pensions divide; not private and public but haves and have nots

July 6, 2011

I just love that scary pig!

Sometimes, the work of another blogger provides the motivation for a blog post. Today the work of two of my colleagues, and a comment on one of those posts, has inspired me to write a post which might be way off base but I hope provides some food for thought.

Last week one of my colleagues, reflecting on the pensions strike argued that in reality the public and private sectors aren’t so different. This followed up a piece from the week before discussing the future of the local government pension scheme. In that post my fellow WLLGer had written that there was general agreement that local government should maintain a final salary scheme.

A commenter (code name Jeremiah) pointed out that actually many would prefer a career average type of scheme as it did more to even out the benefits between those on ‘normal’ salaries and the ‘high-flyers’.

When you add the two posts and the comment together it got me thinking:

Is the real divide in terms of pensions not between the public and private sector but between those who are reasonably ‘well-off’ and those that aren’t; or to put it another way the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’.

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We’re not that different when all is said and done

July 1, 2011

Just try taking one side away...Speaking with my father recently I was told a story from my youth. At four years old I was watching a boxing match between a black British and a white American boxer, and watching my dad getting excited as the Brit took the upper hand. When asking him which one I should cheer for he told me the black boxer was ours – confused, I calmly told him I didn’t understand what he meant and asked what colour shorts he was wearing otherwise I couldn’t tell them apart.

As I grew older I struggled to understand the differences in status and class which meant so much to my parents. I couldn’t understand the differences between me, friends from school who went on skiing trips and those whose parents had no need to work who we met on holiday. As far as I could see, the only difference was that I didn’t have to wear a blazer and tie to school.

As I started work I initially struggled to work out the differences in authority and power of those I worked with, treating all with a friendly comeraderie and ignoring any undertones of formality. Now, why on earth am I bringing this trip down memory lane up?

Because I am now facing another blind spot – I’m struggling to see a real, identifiable, quantifiable difference between public and private sector workers.

With the strike action from yesterday and the pension arguements which rumble on, with the salaries of public sector servants at the top end of the scale being compared with the PM and their private sector counterparts, with the current cuts being made to the public sector and the various places the public wants to place the blame for them; I fear we are rapidly dividing the country up into opposing sides on the private and public sectors, and I fear for the impact this has. (more…)

Council Christmas Carols

December 21, 2010

It’s official: Christmas is here.  The X-factor final has been and gone, the Coca Cola advert has appeared on the tele and we have all been and gone from our local government Christmas parties.  This year we thought we’d bend our minds and those of some of our friends to the task of creating some very special Christmas Carols which have been tweaked for local government just a little.

And if we forget to say it:  Happy Christmas to all in the public sector!

“Jingle Bells”
Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way
Oh what fun it is to ride in a one-horse open sleigh
Oh jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way
Subject to Health & Safety checks, a Trading Standards license, and undertaking an EqIA

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Today is the Day

October 20, 2010

In happier times?

I woke up this morning feeling like I did many years ago on exam day; I assumed that the feelings were nervousness, apprehension and fearing the worst.

Working out these mixed emotions is tough.

In my heart of hearts I know that despite what George Osborne says today, many of the changes that are being planned for my local authority are already in train and won’t be revoked. I also know that even if the cuts he announces are huge it won’t necessarily mean I’ll lose my job or the services I help provide will be cut. Those are rightly decisions for local leaders.

Despite knowing these things I can’t help but feel that today is probably the most significant day for local government for possibly twenty years.

There will be massive changes in the coming years. Some changes have already begun but only in a small way; today will be the starting gun for what is to come; after all there is nothing like the cold hard reality of losing cash to focus the mind.

All of this leads me to question my analogy – I was right in one way; yes, it is like the morning of an exam.

But the feelings are not just nervousness and apprehension but actually excitement and anticipation. The world of local government is about to change and I for one want to make sure I’m part of making the best out of, whatever that change might be.

I, and my fellow bloggers, will doubtless consider the impact of the cuts later and the catastrophic effect they will have on the public services we provide and my job but for now the anticipation is flowing through my veins so all I can say is this:

George; bring it on!

Oblivious but facing oblivion

September 23, 2010

What do you call a man with a seagull on his head?

In the 19th century news was often out of date: After all, whether in the printed or verbal form, it had to physically travel. And yet, my impression is that because of the paucity of information available, when the news did arrive it was widely consumed.

People were therefore informed if a little out of date.

Today things are very different. The news is available 24 hours per day and in more formats than you could possibly imagine; TV, radio, internet, blogs, comic books and of course newspapers and magazines.

Hell, you can even get your news from twitter should you want to.

Despite this torrent of news it seems that in many ways we are less informed than ever.

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