Thursday, 3 June 2010

Philip Ozouf's Challenge

Ludovick Kennedy: How will you extinguish local government bureaucracy?
Jim Hacker: It's a challenge I'm looking forward to.
Ludovick Kennedy: Would you agree there's even more bureaucratic waste there than in Whitehall?
Jim Hacker: Yes, that's what makes it a challenge.
Ludovick Kennedy: How will you meet the challenge?
Jim Hacker: It's far too early to give detailed proposals he broad strategy is to cut ruthlessly at waste
while leaving essential services intact.
Ludovick Kennedy: That's what your predecessor said.
Jim Hacker: Did he fail?
Ludovick Kennedy: I was just asking you whether you would agree that your predecessor had failed.
Jim Hacker: Certainly not. On the contrary. It's just that this job is an enormous...
Ludovick Kennedy: Challenge?
Jim Hacker: Exactly!

Listening to Senator Ozouf on the radio this morning, I couldn't help be struck by the similarities between him an Jim Hacker - this spending review of the States will be an enormous "challenge", but we can deliver "efficiency savings".

The list of savings, however, pretty well all concerned frontline services, or easy targets like school milk. When Chris Stone asked about any cuts to higher ranking civil servants, Senator Ozouf went on to talk about a comprehensive review of all states salaries being undertaken - which was an evasion, Jim Hacker style, and not an answer.

The fact that the hospital has around 18-20 people in a "human resources" department - identified by Senator Ferguson in her hospital organisational chart - somehow didn't come into the hospital cuts, possibly because it is the hospital deciding where cuts should be, and she drew up the chart - they wouldn't supply one and don't have one of their own.

How Senator Ozouf thinks cuts can be identified properly without such a chart is beyond me, but I suppose in the world of management speak, "efficiency savings" "cutting costs", and letting departments decide for themselves, this simply doesn't occur. And yet higher ranking and wasteful bureaucracy can only be identified by such means - the first instruction of any spending review should be to tell departments to get their act together and draw up such a chart.

It is also notable that Roy le Hérissier has been refused any details of higher bureaucratic salaries, of what chief officers earn, for example, and any pension and/or expenses packages that are part of the deal. How there can be a proper review of salaries which Philip Ozouf kept telling Chris Stone would be "transparent" - when such matters are kept secret - seems to stretch credulity to breaking point. Or is "transparent", as I suspect, one of those buzz-words like "open government", which is used a lot, but when someone really wants information, turns out to be a political mirage:

I  explained that we are calling the White Paper Open Government because you always dispose of the difficult bit in the title. It does less harm there than on the statute books.   It is the law of Inverse Relevance: the less you intend to do about something, the more you have to keep talking about it. (Sir Humphrey Appleby, Yes Minister)

Senator Ozouf also fudged tax rises - he said there would be combination of States cost-cutting balanced with rises in taxes which would have to be greater if the cuts were rejected. But he didn't say what those tax rises would be, although it is pretty obvious that the two main sources of tax revenue over which he has control are indirect taxes, such as those on fuel or drink, and GST. In the meantime, more staff are being taken on by tax to chase non-payment and avoidance, which he says will pay for itself - which no doubt it will, in the short run, but there must be a point when that backlog of cases starts to diminish - and what will those staff be doing then?
I have just started reading "Delivering Public Services That Work", which is a collection of case studies on systems thinking in the public sector. It is worlds away from the vague managementspeak, and yet all the case studies which involve real public organisations in England have made substantial gains in efficiency, which they can measure - yet without going down a culture of "targets". Measurable here means (in one case) 6.5% less resources to handle 33% more work - improvements one can believe in. It is a book which I would recommend to anyone like Senator Ozouf.

These cuts are not finalised yet, but they will be in the business plan which is published just after the last States sitting in July, and debated in September. Now it is true that people need adequate time to review and think on these matters, but there always seems to be an element (from last years plan), of delivering it so that there can be no immediate debate or comment in the States, no questions asked about it, until the States return.

It is like letters I've sometimes had from schools, which tell you about cut backs, and are sent out just after schools close. Is it just me, or is there a hint here of giving out bad news and deliberately running away from any engagement or come back on it? Certainly, it is not a good example of "consensus government", when it is issued as a declaratory edict, with no prior consultation or engagement with other States members. But then when Senator Le Sueur took over as Chief Minister, he promised "consensus", bringing everyone along with government - just like that White Paper in Yes Minister on Open Government!

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