Archive for April 12, 2012

What profit do we measure?

April 12, 2012

But you can't fire me, I work for local government!

Wednesday night in our house is Apprentice night, when it’s time to snuggle up on the sofa and revel in the personality switches which take place as colleagues working together for success turn on each other to protect their own backsides.

This fight for survival may be worthy of a post in its own right, but what’s interesting me at the moment is one element of how the unlucky victim and recipient of the dreaded catchphrase is chosen. Throughout the current series it’s been a simple target; profit. When running a business (as the contestants all do here) this seems fair enough, as that is after all one of their ultimate goals.

Profit, especially as it is simplified nicely on the show, separates the succesful from the failures, acts as a clear line between who has achieved the highest goals and who hasn’t and provides a clear barometer of meeting targets. It often doesn’t matter so much how they get there, how much is spent on the way or the feelings of those involved; it’s cold, hard profit which rules the roost.

In the world of local government, things are nowhere near as straightforward. Profit is not a goal which is desirable, and indeed can be seen by many as a sign that something is not being done properly. Money is assigned to service areas based on real or perceived needs, political whims or historical inertia, rather than on the basis of which investment offers the greatest potential return on investment for the balance sheets.

We in local government under this administration measure our success otherwise. In the old days of Local Area Agreements we were measured against literally hundreds of targets and goals, which in turn were measured against perceptions from the public or centrally set figures. Both of these were to a greater or lesser extent based on what one group of people or another thought success looked like, or at least what failure was. (more…)