Reforming Public Services? You thought that New Labour started that in 1997? Quite. You’re right but they failed to deliver because there were too many meaningless targets and too much micro-management which continues to-date.
Hence, the need to re-reform public services. But how?
Irrespective of what the centre says, first, there has to be political will from the leader of the Council and the Chief Executive to  thoroughly clean up the political governance and service delivery governance  separate wood from the trees  retain ‘change champions’ empowering them in the front-line to ‘break rules’ in-line with my tuppence-worth [below] think of and implement service changes to that reduce duplication, unnecessary bureaucratic effort, simplify and streamline delivery, save time and money  similarly identify areas of fraud and incisively deal with them including reforming procedures removing silo-mentality, sharing information within and external partners.  carry out root and branch reform of the entire culture without fear or favour.
How to reform public services?
As mentioned above my view is to start with the root & branch reform of the entire culture of the organisation.
Establish a TQ Culture Total Quality Culture where the Cultural implications of providing such a service to the customers of any Local Authority service provider are that it essentially involves the whole organisation, every department, every activity, every single person at every level. For such an organisation to be truly effective, each part of it must work properly together, recognising that every activity affects, and in turn is affected by, others.
The purpose and importance of policies and procedures is to translate the Government Legislation, Initiatives, Agendas, and directives (through LA’s Strategies) into processes by which those could be delivered consistently, reliably, cost-effectively and within time. Such delivery mechanisms would in their own turn introduce a way of monitoring performance and to clearly identify (through the audit trail) where something went wrong, why and how best to address the failing so as not to repeat the same mistake again. Thus introducing such a (motivated) culture to the first step change into continuous improvement cycle.
I have numerous policy, service, procedural and processes innovations. All my innovations have been self-motivated business critical ideas delivering value-for-money or realisable efficiency gains. It is my Dharma, my true inherent nature, to find the most efficient and effective ways to serve – to cut through bureaucracy and wasted effort and to go beyond expectations in delighting the customers. That is the only way to repeat the business. True to that Dharma – my work ethics have always been: “I’ll conduct my life’s work on the basis that the question is not if the opportunities of improvement exist but how they will be taken.”
Hence, I consider myself also a Change Champion, Equality & Diversity Champion (including Older Peoples’ Services Champion), an Innovator, Public Service Improver, value-for-money & efficiency champion, and a Social Entrepreneur.
Although Sir Peter Gershon Efficiency Review insisted that efficiencies are achieved through:
- Maintaining the same level of service while reducing the resources needed or using fewer staff;
- Delivering additional outputs via enhanced quality or quantity of service for the same resource; or
- Remodelling service provision to enable better outcomes.
However, it identifies unacceptable activities as efficiency gains including:
- Re-labelling of activity viz reclassifying inspection as advice;
- Cuts that result in poorer service for the public;
- Transferring costs from one area to another without net reduction or
- Increasing fees and charges to the public.
It identified cashable & non-cashable efficiency gains by workstreams viz:
- Procurement efficiency gains realisable via greater economies of scale;
- Corporate Services – includes Finance, HR, ICT, Procurement, Legal Services, Facilities Management, Travel Services, Security Services, Marketing & Communications etc.
- Productive Time – increasing productivity of front line staff whilst increasing input by reducing absenteeism.
- Transactions – combining activities to deliver efficient services.
Whilst these all are applicable to any local authority, there is nothing new about the common-sense business critical activities that any business, private or public, worth its salt ought to be conducting to survive let alone succeed.
The latest biggest piece of Housing Legislation in a decade has become an act impacting further on the LA front-line staff who will have to take on greater role in regulating private sector housing. There are seven parts to the Housing Act – the first five cover private housing, part six deals with public sector issues & part seven with supplementary matters.
Public sector fraud running at £22bn
The culture therefore ought to identify, deal with and prevent future fraud both internal as well as external.
Slashing public sector consultancy budgets
Given the culture change I have mentioned above, the devolved budgets, accountability and empowerment to decide and deal with public needs will inevitably create a culture that thrives on learning as the keep earning good will from the service users. Such a valued and an innovative culture will in time be able to do away with expensive and unnecessary consultants, greatly reducing their budgets. But what does such a culture appear like?
Cabinet Office Research [1997-1999] confirms that local govt’s impressive track record of finding efficiencies is solely due to the innovative nature of the front-line staff who are in the best place to innovate as they know the systems inside out. The New Labour never got around to devolving controlling from the centre to know how to enable and empower the front-line services to do what they are employed to do.
My tupennys worth:
- Change – besides being unpredictable is essentially inevitable. The greatest personal skill needed for this decade will be manage radical change in order to survive as an organisation. The chaos theory emphasises that in order to lead this change one will actually need to break rules rather than keep them. Public service industry that essentially belongs to the public, there will inevitably be constant change; indefinitely.
- Thus a need for a collective organisational vision which may originate as abstract set of hopes and wishes evolving into something that makes sense for the organisation and its culture. The evidence that the vision has taken root is when people can sum it up in an anecdote or a story and begin to identify with it and live it – convincingly. To that end staff and other stakeholders must be given many opportunities to be involved in and contribute to this process over time.
- Both, political and managerial leader’s ability to make a difference by exercising control has been replaced by the need for negotiation, influence and networking. To be direct, powerful and effective in shaking up the local authority strategically they will need to empower others to act and grow in support of the vision both leaders and followers find worthy.
- This, to some extent, eases the way for the LA leadership to assist staff, averse to change, work with change that they are afraid of. Local government being a staff-rich activity must recognise the salience of staff in the reality of any change. To ignore it would be disastrous. Staff who will not go along with the change will mean no change. People are more important than structures and systems. Leaders must passionately believe in the direction and purpose of change. However, it requires that staff who are going to make that change own the change themselves.
- In order to facilitate this, the leaders need to cut across and move some of the activities outside the established pyramid hierarchies and involve change champions from across the organisation ensuring that staff freely choose the direction of change as their own preservation and survival.
- In order to work with staff’s own motivation as the main driver for change means finding out in detail what that motivation is. This process is essentially collaborative. Leading staff means being willing, able and self-disciplined to listen actively to what staff have to say and having infinite patience to communicate successfully and being able to make oneself understood.
- Hence the key skills a leader will need to lead staff through change are: (1) able to motivate their staff (2) in order to motivate their staff they have to listen to what their staff’s special motivation might be and (3) in order to be able to use that information on their motivation they need to be able to communicate with staff clearly.
- And finally, a leader must recognise that there are staff, in all organisations, wishing to change for some time who are highly self-motivated, talented and innovative bursting with ideas, energy and enthusiasm to excel but have been stopped by senior colleagues or by other barriers. The crucial managerial task is to seek out such gifted gems and to dismantle barriers to performance and productivity and channel talent into avenues that will directly contribute to the achievement of the organisational goals. This is crucial for any local authority in achieving its twin initiatives – Corporate Health MoT & deliver Valuing Diversity Policy.