Saying one thing

Hotter isn't necessarily betterIf working in local government teaches one thing, it’s that there really is a form for everything. However, if it teaches some other things, one of these is that it’s easy to say one thing and then go ahead and do another.

Our good friend Eric Pickles looks like he’s been studying this one hard this week, with his department releasing yet another one of their favourite heat maps; this time around it’s hotting up wherever there is more money to spend per head of population (sounds a little like a typical night at China Whites to me). According to this map 63 councils recieve over £1050 per resident, the same number below £830 each and the rest fall somewhere in between.

E-Pick has told us in the past that he wants local people to take control of local areas, then here tells us in his own words “It’s not how much you spend, but how you spend it.” If this were true, why release the figures in this way? Transparency is mentioned in the press release and is a worthy thing to refer to, but this doesn’t actually seem to match up with the other reasons given.

If he is serious about this message then it actually doesn’t matter how much money is spent. A service needs to be as good as it can be, and this means in different areas this will cost different amounts. The important thing is whether that service is cost effective, focussing on the latter more than the former.

Obviously services need to be delivered within budgetary constraints, but when these constraints vary so widely and the level of need varies equally widely then the financial figures will be higher or lower around the country. £1050 may go further than £830 in some places but not others, and indeed can vary significantly between relatively local places. This is being addressed through the increase in shared services, although most of these shared services so far have been restricted to the back office rather than frontline services.

There is a very real difference between information and knowledge, and this seems to be an attempt to release information and then use it as knowledge. Simply quoting that place A spends more than place B doesn’t tell anywhere near the whole story; only when it is combined with service satisfaction, lowered impact on other services, higher quality of life or simple targets and measurements can it give a clue as to whether that money was well spent or not.

Transparency is a good thing, but while some things are more transparent than others we will never get past information and on to something really useful.

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2 Comments on “Saying one thing”

  1. localgovalso Says:

    This just shows an inherent risk of open data; now usually this is restricted to misleading infographics from hack journalists (and the occasional crime mapping website), it’s massively disappointing to see the ministry still at it.

    Time will, I hope, sort the signal from the noise with regards this sort of hack analysis; being democratic with data means that both ourselves and the academic sector will have to up our game with regards getting our data messages out there… but I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing.

    And E-Pick? there’s a nice Hulture secretary moment in that one 😀

  2. Ed Hammond Says:

    I agree completely both with this and with the comment above. Not much more to say than that really.

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