I’ve followed the excellent Flip Chart Fairy Tales for a few months now, after reading them via Patrick Butler.
In a series of 3 posts over the last week or so, FCFT has absolutely nailed the issue of realising public sector efficiency gains. I don’t say this often, but I can’t recommend this series of posts highly enough, and highlights are extracted below:
Part 1: Why are public sector efficiency savings so hard? – Efficiency:
The awkward truth is that most of the public sector’s costs are buried deep in its frontline services and that significant efficiency savings can only be made by improving the way these services operate. That requires a lot of hard detailed work.
Part 2: Why are public sector efficiency savings so hard? – Organisational complexity:
None of this is to say that public sector organisations can’t be made more efficient; they can. People have done it. It’s just much more difficult than those who have not tried to do it realise. Unless you have tried to get your head around arcane processes, or pored over spreadsheets trying to work out where the hell your costs are going, or explained a new way of working for the umpteenth time to a sea of blank faces, it’s difficult to understand the eye-watering effort involved in making even minor efficiency savings. Offered the choice between a tough diet and exercise regime or a miracle slimming pill, many overweight people choose the latter. Our politicians display similar behaviour. They look for the magic pill and ignore the sheer scale of the task.
Part 3: Why are public sector efficiency savings so hard? – Politics:
Our political culture puts pressure on politicians to intervene. Every time a media storm leads to cries of ‘something must be done’ the something usually has to be done by public servants. For example, the measures taken after the after the deaths of two children, Victoria Climbié and Peter Connelly, loaded massive costs onto local authorities, disrupted and destabilised services while achieving very little. When the politicians feel under pressure to intervene, costs inevitably rise.