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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!

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Public Services are too serious to be left to.......bureaucrats and academics

A journalist friend has written making the very good point that people tend these days to live in what he called national “traumas” in which any mention of government reform is treated as just so much pointless rhetoric – if not with outright scorn and ridicule…(my words).
Of course this simply reflects the fact (as I’ve emphasised in recent posts about reform efforts) that those who write about admin reform are predominantly (95%) academics – and that they talk only to one another – or down to students – and never to the public at large ….
But every European State spends about 40% of its GNP on public services – so there must be a few informed citizens out there – even if most of us are so overwhelmed with apathy/fatalism that we don’t bother….  We mutter amongst ourselves but, otherwise, leave it to the politicians, bureaucrats, trade unionists and lobbyists!
And I know of at least one academic who did try (in 2003) to write a book about the subject for the general public – it was called The Essential Public Manager. Sadly, it doesn’t seem to have made much impact….

But what effort - it might be asked - do public service professionals make to try to change the things we (and they) don’t like about the services they work in? It is, after all, real individuals who run our schools, hospitals and state infrastructure. They have received expensive training; surely they should be more active?
The idea of transferring some public services to its staff caught the imagination recently in Britain in a policy called “mutualisation” - which was indeed embraced early into the UK 2010-15 Coalition government programme. The Post Office was to be the gem in that particular policy jewel but ideological fervour beat principle and the famous PO was duly privatised in 2015…..  Despite that setback, the past couple of decades have seen a considerable growth of social enterprise (employing about 1.5 million) particularly in the field of public health and some welfare services….
But how many articles do you see about this - even in north-west europe let alone the south-east?

Indeed, looking back over the past 40 years or so, I can recall only two books by journalists about public services (in the English language at any rate) – one an American (David Osborne) who produced in 1992 what turned out to be a best-seller – Reinventing Government. The other is a Brit (Polly Toynbee) whose recent book Dismembered – the ideological attack on the state actually triggered the blog series I did last autumn…
I understand the environment in which journalists write – but still think it’s sad that so many journalists just take the PR handouts from government departments and don’t bother with even minimal some policy digging. (Needless to say, my friend doesn’t belong in this category)….

Perhaps other journalists might therefore be interested in a little book (100-odd pages) which has pictures, tables and para headings to make it all the more reader-friendly; not to mention an eye-catching title - How did Admin Reform get to be so sexy?
I readily concede that the book titles and lists which adorn the text are a bit of a turn-off but there is little I can do about that since one of the book’s intentions is to guide the interested reader through the extensive literature; and to help people identify what is actually worth reading….
 I always liked the comic-book approach – in the 70s there were a couple of good series (Writers and Readers Coop was one) which did excellent ones on figures such as Marx, Freud…even Chomsky…
Of course, cartoons should be used more often to liven up such texts. Dilbert has long shown the way…

Perhaps the subject of Government Reform needs that sort of approach?

Further Reading on mutualisation and social enterprise

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