Fearing the (Danish) Butcher’s Knife
Today a guest post from a correspondent who wanted us to write about the ‘phrase de jour’ in Local Government right now: the ‘salami slice’. We went one better and got them to write the piece for us. Enjoy:
In these austere times, I, like most people, wander merrily into work each day wondering whether today will be the day that the brown envelope will land on my desk, and I can at long last bid adieu to the 1960’s concrete monstrosity, we affectionately refer to as ‘the Civic Building’. Sadly that day is still yet to come, and in many ways I fear that I may actually survive to become one of those lucky few who have to achieve the same output with 25% less staff.
If yours is anything like my authority, you will have undergone previous savings programmes, which involved bringing in the dreaded consultants from one of the big firms. These have sought to skim that 5 or 10% off the top of every budget, only for the programme to finish and everyone realise that the savings aren’t actually achievable because the work these teams do still has to get done.
This can’t be the way to solve the current budget cuts and we simply don’t have the margins of error this time. While I am partial to a little bit of Salami now and again, slicing of this variety has no place in creating a ‘Council of the Future’.
Wikipedia (the font of all knowledge and basis for most of my Uni essays) states that Salami Slicing is:
a series of many minor actions, often performed by clandestine means, that together results in a larger action that would be difficult or illegal to perform at once
Now while I wouldn’t want to suggest that what my Council’s Senior Officers are doing is Criminal (not in the literal sense at least), I would suggest that a vision statement of “we will boldly do everything we have always done but just 25% worse and probably slower” is not going to instill a sense of Civic pride in our residents.
Frank le Duc, ex-deputy editor of The Argus, Brighton, was quoted as saying:
You can slice the salami only so many times before there’s no meat left
or perhaps more aptly:
you can cut the cost of feeding your goose but don’t be surprised if it keeps laying fewer golden eggs until you end up strangling the scraggy old bird
At my Council, and doubtless many others, it is fair to say that we urgently need to reconsider our dietary requirements, particularly as our Golden Goose was sold off years ago.
There is of course another option, one that is less popular and shall we say, a little too ‘private sector’ for our liking. That is that we, or shall we say, our elected Members and Senior Officers decide that we should actually stop doing something. Often these roles we perform are those which we shouldn’t have been doing in the first place, and lets face it, could be and probably are being done better elsewhere.
I think in truth, this issue boils down to the complexity and perhaps absurdity of the beast which we call Local Government. You simply would not find a private sector company which diversified to this extent; a Coca-Cola, GSK and Barrett homes merger is never likely to be on the cards.
What we are being asked to do is to manage priorities as diverse as school transport, day centres and parks in one exercise. All the services are important, just for different reasons and choosing the ones to cut is very difficult. Indeed, we’re not even comparing apples with any other comparable food stuff, let alone other apples.
Hence, the tendency to bring out the salami slice.
So what is the answer? Firstly an acceptance that Local Government has to change. This will mean that some services which we currently provide will have to go and other services will look very different. Increased partnerships, a move from provider to commissioner and shared services are on the horizon.
And from our Senior Officers and Politicians?
Strong leadership, honesty and openness would be a good start. A willingness to innovate, rip up the rule book and make some tough decisions would probably help us along too. But this is Local Government and the cuts need to be made now so our local Danish butcher might just be lending us his cured meat slicer before the financial year is out.
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