For too long too much money has been wasted in the public sector by too many people. That is the inescapable conclusion that we must all come to after the reading the reports of the 13 official ‘Total Place’ pilots and the 50+ unofficial ones. It’s not that any specific organisation has been bad or lazy or unskilled or untrained. It’s the fact that there have been too many organisations competing for cash and clients in a way that has become bewildering for those of us in the public sector and even more bewildering for those who need the services of the public sector.
Organisation after organisation with the mission statements, web sites, away days and managements costs. Many organisations responsible but in some cases like the Baby Peter case no one organisation taking responsibility.
That is why the LGA pressed for what we call Place Based Budgeting a concept that the Government has accepted (although changing its name to community budgeting) and started to roll out through series of 16 pilots involving about 30 councils looking the needs of ‘complex families’. These families are a good place to start. Research in Liverpool some 5/6 years ago showed that one extended family was costing the public sector more than £3 million a year. That didn’t count the uncountable costs of the anguish and misery that they caused to communities and individuals.
Too many cooks spoil the broth in this and many other cases. Decades of short term interventions leave a pattern of lack or aspiration, qualifications and drive mean that certain surnames and family groupings pass down the serried ranks of public sector workers through the ages. Like the famed ‘Jarndyce v Jarndyce’ case of Dickens fame no-one knew the cause of the problem but it kept a lot of people in business.
Place Based budgeting will lead to a really different way of doing things. When we start looking in detail at how much we spend in an area or on a specific theme and then ask would we spend it in this way with these organisations on these projects the answer is invariably no. Typically we have started with a problem, delegated dealing with that problem to an organisation or created another organisation to step into a perceived breach and then started spending money. What we need to do instead is to work backward from the outcome we want, by devising first a series of outputs and only then the delivery mechanisms to deliver those outputs and that outcome.
Perhaps the most chilling example of bureaucratic inertia was seen when the last government rightly decided to put most of the work of the Learning and Skills Council back into local government they created 3 new quangos to deal with the remaining on e third of work kept with central government. Worryingly there were great problems assimilating central government staff into local authorities because they were paid so much more than our staff.
The LGA believes that if we do things that way round we can save between 10 and 20% of the running costs of our public sector delivery and achieve better results. Yes that will still lead to job losses after all one man’s efficiency is another man’s job loss but it will mean that we are providing the service that we and more importantly our tax payers really need.
We can also do a lot more inside specific organisations. If we look at the Police we can see how major saving could be made in just two regards. Firstly HMIC have calculated that a change in the bureaucracy and form filling required of them would lead to 12% more police being out on active policing not inside the station filling in forms. Secondly legislative changes will be introduced to give councils and the police far more control over licensed premises. Far too much money is spent on policing drunken louts in the middle of the night with the private sector creaming off profit and the public sector footing the bill. Add to those internal and external changes to the sector the ability to move police much more easily into new methods of working with other organisations inside the justice, health, education and community safety systems I have no doubt that we can get far more value for our cash.
Times are hard – that’s indisputable. However as Danny Alexander puts it it after all the cuts we will still be spending 41% of our GDP on the public sector which is well above average. That will mean that the public sector has more than £700 billion to use every year. We can use it better – we must use it better.