High productivity in the public sector has been this government’s Holy Grail, and its desire to implement new ways of working has followed a typical pattern.
First, tough regulators are launched and a raft of targets created. Then, at great expense, a range of impressive sounding quangos are set up to act as the fonts of all wisdom for the practitioners concerned. And, finally, after two or three years, when ministers lose patience with the speed of progress, the system is completely restructured. Ministers conclude that more private sector involvement would have been better in raising productivity all along. By this stage, we normally get a new government and it starts all over again.
Last week’s local government white paper slots neatly into the final stages of this cycle. But, we should suspend our cynicism because it has a lot to offer. A big reduction in the number of national performance indicators and the scrapping of star ratings and timetabled inspections. Replacement with an annual risk assessment could free up valuable resources for service provision.
A fundamental problem remains, however – good regulation may raise minimum standards, but it does little to promote high standards. In theory, that is where the quangos come in. There is nothing wrong with the principle of creating “academies of excellence” that bring together the evidence to promote high performance. But, to be successful, they need a real profile when they come to disseminate it. Social workers have enough on their plate without learning the meaning of another new acronym. Our survey shows the agencies are struggling in this regard. Even the Social Care Institute for Excellence, which is better recognised, faces a lack of confidence in its effectiveness. They are all contributing to progress in social care but the jury is still out on whether it is significant or represents good value for money.
Community Care also as an important role to play and will be making more of our excellent access to innovative case studies and research in practice over the coming months.
But, the sort of black-and-white productivity gains that government departments get excited about are going to demand a different approach. Teams must have genuine incentives through additional rewards or funding – and that costs money