Saturday, 8 October 2011

Do We Really Need to Cut Front Line Services?

I was listening this week on the radio to a number of volleys between the Government and the Labour opposition.

Basically the fact that Tory "cuts" are causing front line services to be scrapped. Instead Labour would have us believe that they have the solution to the answer which is... I dunno really, because their so-called solutions have no basis in reality, are a bit vague and frankly involve not actually cutting anything as far as I can see.

Anyway, back to the topic: would Labour actually do any better?

Well frankly, no. The problem is that what the government and ordinary people want is for front line services to remain, but be delivered in the most cost-effective and efficient manner. Normally in a private company, this usually involves trimming off any excess fat in the organisation. Usually getting rid of a layer or two of middle management does the trick. What happens is that upper layers of management have to work harder for the same money (i.e. more efficiently) and the lowest ranks in the organisation continue to provide the same service as before.

The problem with trying to trim the fat in the public sector is how things are organised and funded. Central government may provide grants to local government, but it has no control over how that money is spent. One of the ways central government aims to reduce local government waste and instil a regime of efficiency is by reducing the money it gives to local government. Westminster then crosses its fingers and prays that the town and city councils see the light, accept the reduction and find more efficient ways of working.

Of course local government does exactly the opposite and just cuts front line services. Why? Because its those same middle managers that would be cut in the private sector that are making the decisions about what to cut in the public sector. Turkeys don't vote for Christmas and a middle manager isn't going to recommend he be made redundant in order to make the council more efficient. Instead he'll chop a few underlings from the wage bill, those same underlings that are at the coalface, providing front line services.

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