‘Stop press’ – Michael Gove has just ordered councils to produce new ‘productivity plans’. Apparently, several UK local government councils have either gone bust or are very close to it. Armchair experts suggest they never had any realistic plans anyway and, for non-statutory services, they just shelled out more local tax-payers’ money on loopy projects or when workers went on strike – ‘cutting their cloth to what they could afford’ was not how they did things
Some believe the same attitude is prevalent in the NHS – hence Wes Streeting, UK shadow health secretary, recently rattled a few cages despite risking considerable unpopularity – when visiting Singapore, he noticed hospitals there sported signs saying ‘Get rid of Stupid Stuff’ – they don’t just expect extra funding when needs arise but also seek to increase productivity in return, and he clearly liked the idea – a leader in The Times supported him, noting that, where data exists, the productivity of hospitals in the UK can vary widely (e.g. with length of stay after knee-replacement, number of cataract operations completed per day or operating theatre utilisation)
But one struggles to find any mention of support, not criticism, for the hard-pressed managers in both those important sectors – and many others:
- Despite the blizzards of performance measures that they have to have, where are the useful ones that can identify where changes are needed and possible?
- Where are the best practice databases for them to consult and copy?
- What in-house or (affordable) outside support is available to them to identify and successfully implement effective changes (with quick paybacks) – especially given most are not trained productivity improvement specialists?
Sadly, the cupboard is bare
Instead, ‘more and more investment needed’ is the usual cry – more doctors and nurses, more pay, more investment in social care facilities or to mend pot-holes, or to update archaic IT equipment and employ AI
All are important, but where are the voices calling for better use of existing resources already paid for – imagine if it was known that at least 20% of NHS costs were wasted (some even believe it’s nearer 40%!) – but nobody knows because such measures don’t exist
And imagine if, with a better mix of skills and methods used, a further 20% improvement could be made – after many years of ‘custom and practice’, inefficiency inevitably breeds inefficiency – Parkinson’s Law spreads like wildfire, competition is lacking so there’s no real pressure to improve, and so no regular ‘systems analysis’ conducted
As a result, the costs of such vital public sector services continue to mushroom – not least because the powers-that-be seem to focus on grand macro changes, and not learn from their lack of success to date – they should be providing far more support at the micro-level for their service managers and teams on the front line
As tax-payers, we can only hope Streeting will make them listen to and act on what the Singaporeans are saying
Meantime, consider extracts from an article by Sarah Calkin, writing for the Local Government Chronicle, in which she provides a little more detail on Gove’s proposals
Councils have been given six months to produce new ‘productivity plans’ for the government as part of the terms of additional funding announced today – and warned to consider whether diversity programmes are value for money.
In a written statement this afternoon Communities Secretary Michael Gove confirmed reports this morning that social care authorities will share an additional £500m in 2024-25. A further £100m will be spent on increasing the rural services delivery grant and raising the funding guarantee
Mr Gove said this meant councils’ core spending power would rise by £4.5bn, equivalent to a 7.5% increase which he described as above inflation. He said the additional funding should be used on “frontline services” and not “put aside for later use” and said the government would continue to monitor the level of council reserves.
He said work was needed from national and local government to improve productivity as “part of our efforts to return the sector to sustainability in the future. That is why today, we are asking local authorities to produce productivity plans setting out how they will improve service performance and reduce wasteful expenditure to ensure every area is making best use of taxpayers’ money”
“I encourage local authorities to consider whether expenditure on discredited equality, diversity and inclusion programmes meets this objective.”
An expert panel will be established, including the Local Government Association and the Office for Local Government, to review the plans and advise the government on “best practice” in this area.
Mr Gove said the plans would be used to inform funding settlements in future years with more details on the process due to be provided when the final local government finance settlement is published in the coming weeks.
Councils must produce the plans by parliament’s summer recess.
So it’s yet again for front-liners alone to determine whether they succeed, or not – with non-accountable back-roomers doing little more than watch over them