Archive for July 2010

Protecting the public purse

July 16, 2010

I just came across this from the National Audit Office (slogan: Protecting the public purse).

After a much heralded launch it seems the Audit Commission has decided that the ‘Oneplace’ website is not after all the ‘powerful tool for change’ that the audit commission claimed it would be.

Instead it was just a pointless collection of numbers which provided no value for money and yet cost a fortune. Kudos to the Tories for getting rid of it…

I wouldn’t mention this apart from the fact that I said something very similar here:

It’s nice to be right sometimes!



A Blog of Two Halves

July 15, 2010

I am far from a dyed in the wool (I used to think that was actually ‘dead in the wall’) Labour supporter, nor am I blue or yellow in my persuasion.  I wanted to note this in advance in an effort to convince you to not think I’m railing against things for big-P political reasons, more because I’m having a few problems with the way some of the essential cuts that need to be made are being reported.

In the lift today I heard people discussing the major cuts that need to be made, and getting upset at them.  Not at the detail of them, but at the headlines and tabloid style spin that is going on them.  Cutting the health service, cutting schools, getting rid of weekends, the list went on (albeit without that last one included thankfully).

What happened to the good old spin machine of government?  Gone are the days when these cuts would have been turned into a triumphant battle against waste and bureaucracy, the PM pictured astride the corpses of fat cat managers whilst wielding his scissors with gay abandon.  Instead we have George Osborne and co being perceived by the population as getting rid of everything we hold dear, just to save a few quid.

I’ll come to the actual cuts in a moment, but part of me thinks that the government have shot themselves in the foot by not getting hold of a spin doctor or two to add some polish to this economic turd.  This should be a golden age for the community, a chance for people to rise from the shackles of control and the state and take command of their own destinies.  Instead people are simply going back to tried and trusted moaning about the class gaps between politicians and ‘real people’ and how they don’t understand things in the ‘real world’.

That being said, I agree with my fellow blogger here that something just isn’t right about the plans to get rid of the PCT and give their role, power and money directly to GPs.

GPs are an overworked and constantly stretched group of professionals who have a very specific role in combating illness and raising the levels of public health.  Time for a tenuous analogy…

If my car is broke I go to a mechanic. I expect the visit to be as short as possible – I go in, they fix my car and I leave.  However, just because they can fix a car doesn’t mean they can necessarily handle any and all other car related issues.  I don’t expect my mechanic to be able to manufacture parts themselves, design cars from scratch, perform crash testing and wind tunnel work, deliver road safety lessons, conduct driving tests, drive me about wither I desire or race in Formula 1.

Likewise, if I am ill I’ll visit the doctor and expect to be diagnosed.  I don’t expect him to run projects to combat childhood obesity, programmes to support people to quit smoking or advertising campaigns to educate people when swine flu rears its ugly snout again.  His role is narrow and focused – he is there to make me feel better when I’m not well.

Why not extend this mode of amalgamation thinking further?  Let’s get rid of judges and legal teams entirely, and just get the police to decide whether someone is guilty or not, as well as getting them to run the prisons, can’t see a problem there.  There are loads of Service Heads for street cleansing and public realm – hand that job straight to the bin men and sweepers, they are faced with the issue every day after all and will know just how to spend the millions in their budgets best.

Come to think of it, Steven Gerrard is quite good at sport, let’s stop funding the Lawn Tennis Association and get rid of Andy Murray, Gerrard will do the job while on a bike (see you later Pendleton and Sir Chris of Hoy).

I agree that we need to trim the fat a bit and make sure these organisations are doing the jobs they are supposed to be doing and doing them well for less money.  PCTs prevent illness, GPs deal with it when it happens.  No matter which way you cut it, you’ll break one area of work if you make the other run it.

The wonder that are GPs

July 13, 2010

The utter overhaul of our NHS has left me more or less speechless.

This represents a 100% overhaul of the NHS and in effect passes power for some very complicated managerial activities and a £80 billion budget to our nations GPs.

I have so many questions to ask I might burst but for now I think I should let one suffice and it is this:

Why is it that GPs are more trusted than any other public servant?

Is it the white coat? The slightly musty smell that accompanies them? The fact that you only see them when you’re vulnerable? The quaint inflexibility of their hours? The fact they provide sicknotes or can sign the back of passport photos? I just don’t get it.

GPs are not managers or strategists and yet are being entrusted with huge responsibility and money and as far as I can work out have little skills to do so? Surely that wouldn’t happen in any other field?

And aren’t we meant to dislike high paid civil servants at the moment?

But no, we can’t let a commissioning expert be paid £40,000 to establish need in a local area and then commission for the good of the community. Instead what we need is a GP paid £100,000 with no managerial or strategic experience to do it for us.

Somehow, ever since Aneurin Bevan stuffed GPs mouths with gold to buy their support for the NHS GPs have got both rich and powerful without any hint of their popularity failing.

However, the logic that ‘my GP is always really nice when I see him for my 8 minute consultation therefore I want him to commission complex health services worth an annual £80 billion’ doesn’t wash with me.

More details are needed and I await to be convinced. In the meantime I will sit here and ponder the everlasting popularity of GPs and why local government employees aren’t treated the same.


A ‘Pay Freeze’ which doesn’t freeze pay

July 9, 2010

We live in a time of austerity and many pretty tough steps are going to have to be taken to get through it.

We may all disagree about the scale of the problem or the necessity of quick cuts but in general most sentient human beings (Bob Crowe is, in my humble opinion, neither) acccept that some cuts will be needed.

With this in mind the salaries of public sector workers seem to be a relatively controversy free place to start. This is not because local government workers are necessarily overpaid (more discussion on that another day) or because they are an easy target (see Eric Pickles) but because cutting salaries spreads the pain on lots of people and doesn’t lead to a reduced service.

Thus, in George Osborne’s first budget he announced a pay freeze for those on salaries over £21,500 and a relatively small increase for everyone else. This doesn’t apply to local Government but we had a freeze last year and undoubtedly will have one again; however…

Joe Bloggs on the street would believe that a pay freeze meant that a member of staff being paid £25,000 in year 1 would be paid £25,000 in year 2. Not so.

In fact local government employees operate on a scale system with so called ‘spinal points’. Each year employees automtically go up one spinal point with a maximum of five available without promotion. Assuming that most staff receive a promotion every five years or so this means that nearly everyone’s pay is rising every year (this is a bit disingenuous as some older staff have done the same job for many years; however, it’s amazing how many now have the word senior in their title and thus accessed another five years or autoincreases). The rise is obviously not as much as they would have without the pay freeze but it’s going up anyway.

It’s not that I’m against pay rises or performance related pay, or even salaries reflecting organisational knowledge and skills picked up through longevity, it’s just that surely a pay freeze should mean just that; a freeze on pay. The risk is that by allowing the system to continue as it does the impact of the freeze is lessened and then we have to make more cuts that we would have previously which surely is in no-one’s interest.


The relaunch

July 7, 2010

A confession; I’m a big bottler.

The blog I was writing at work got taken off the LSP website due to some unwise things I wrote about decison making in local authorities. I got in a modicum of trouble and decided that it might be best to put a hold on the whole blogging about local Government thing… Which I did.

That was, in hindsight, a mistake. This blog did highlight the occassional insanity of life in a local authority but always did so with it’s heart in the right place… We actually do love local Government and truly believe in the services it provides and the good it can do. The local government workforce is generally populated with good people who work hard and believe in what they are doing and although local government is mad it is only mad in as much as any other large corporate organisation is.

Two other factors mean the blog should restart:

1) I’ve moved authorities (I can now see trees from my window!). This should provide us with double the material and a slightly different perspective

2) The next 12-24 months will represent the biggest upheaval in local authorities we have ever seen. My authority is aiming for a 40% headcount cut over three years and we are not alone.

Finally, there is still way too much funny stuff going on and it would be rude not to write about it.

I know we’ve probably lost all our readers but I hope that eventually some of them will come back and enjoy our random ramblings…