what you get here

This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

performance management


Tudor Banus - a Romanian artist
One of the reasons I have lost my enthusiasm for my public admin reform assignments is because of the "Fordist" phase it is currently going through with an emphasis everywhere on performance management. Colin Talbot is one of the few people who writes sensibly about this and I'm sorry his book on the topic is not out until early summer (see Amazon)
The Institute for Government published recently a useful survey of the British experience of performance management and attitudes of civil servants and local government officials to the recent revamp. The document, however, makes no mention of the critique by John Seddon of the quasi-Stalinist targeting approach taken to public services by the British over the past 10-15 years - and this lacuna worries me. I must admit I still remain cynical about the excessive targeting - and a blog here on November 5th last year drew atention to 2 British reports which said so. One was a Parliamentary Select Committee Report; the other was Think-Tank pamphlet which recommended an abolition of the entire control regime which has grown up in Britain over the past 2 decades. Its title - Leading from the Front - reflects its basic argument that power should be returned to the front-line professionals - and the Stalinist measurement and control infrastructure should be dismantled.

One of my "favourite links" is Craig Murray's blog. In October he addressed the key question which is figuring in a major way as the general election in that country approaches – how UK public finances can deal with the massive support they have given the banking system.

"Smaller, leaner public services which simply go on with delivering the service direct, with minimal administration. This is the opposite of what the Tories would do. In particular, we need to cut out the whole complex administration of "internal markets" within the public services, where vast arrays of accountants and managers spend their wasted lives processing paper payments from the government to the government.
"Let me tell you a true story which is an analogy for the whole rotten system. As Ambassador in Tashkent, I had staff from a variety of government departments - FCO, MOD, DFID, BTI, Home Office etc. In addition to which, some staff sometimes did some work for other than their own department. This led to complex inter-departmental charging, including this:
"I was presented with a floor plan of the Embassy building, with floor area calculated of each office, corridor and meeting room. I then had to calculate what percentage of time each room or corridor was used by each member of staff, and what percentage of time each member of staff worked for which government department. So, for example, after doing all the calculations, I might conclude that my own office was used 42% of the time on FCO business, 13% of the time on BTI business, 11% on DFID, etc etc, whereas my secretary's office was used ....
"I then would have to multiply the percentage for each government department for each room, lobby and corridor by the square footage of that room, lobby or corridor. Then you would add up for every government department the square footages for each room, until you had totals of how many square feet of overall Embassy space were attributable to each government department. The running costs of the Embassy could then be calculated - depreciation, lighting, heating, maintenance, equipment, guarding, cleaning, gardening etc - and divided among the different departments. Then numerous internal payment transfers would be processed and made.

"The point being, of course, that all the payments were simply from the British government to the British government, but the taxpayer had the privilege of paying much more to run the Embassy to cover the staff who did the internal accounting. That is just one of the internal market procedures in one small Embassy. Imagine the madnesses of internal accounting in the NHS. The much vaunted increases in NHS spending have gone entirely to finance this kind of bureaucracy. Internal markets take huge resources for extra paperwork, full stop.

"The Private Finance Initiative is similarly crazy; a device by which the running costs of public institutions are hamstrung to make massive payments on capital to private investors. What we desperately need to do is get back to the notion that public services should be provided by the State, with the least possible administrative tail. The Tories - and New Labour, in fact - both propose on the contrary to increase internal market procedures and contracting out.
All of the Conservative vaunted savings proposals would not add up to 10% of the saving from simply scrapping Trident. Ending imperial pretentions is a must for any sensible plan to tackle the deficit
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