Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Localism: I told you so!

Way back in February, this blog anticipated a hidden agenda behind localism - that it would only apply where 'locals' did broadly what the Government expected. And lo, it came to pass. The CLG Select Committee report on localism raises many concerns including: "The litmus test of localism will be the Government's reaction to local decisions with which it disagrees."

The report also makes other sharp observations, particularly in highlighting the need for culture change and stating that both ministers and civil servants need to curb their "appetite for intervention". Localism will succeed or fail not on the mechanics of legislation, but on how people behave and respond to this new balance of power.

At the moment I'm pessimistic, not least because of the nature of the Government's response to the Select Committee's recommendations [here]. The Committee's pointed concerns are replied to with bland political rhetoric and broad statements of intent. Very few specifics; certainly no mention for example of the weekly bin collection fiasco of a few months back (if Local Authorities can't decide this, what can they decide?). Still less on how the Government will respond to the next major (local) social care incident.

It's not just the nature of the Government's response; its tone and phrasing also weakens its credibility. One of localism's stated goals is to increase local democracy and strengthen public engagement with the democratic system. How can it achieve this if challenging questions are answered with the same old bland, evasive claptrap that has undermined people's faith in politicians for decades?

If the Government is really serious about devolving power to local levels, it has to do a lot better than this.

Check my web site at for more information and ideas.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Wheel-Reinvention in the NHS

I read, with some incredulity, a report by Ashton Business School on NHS Staff Management and Health Service Quality (here). I quote: "By giving staff clear direction, good support and treating them fairly and supportively, leaders create cultures of engagement, where dedicated NHS staff can in turn give of their best in caring for patients".

Wow! Really?? You mean that basic good practice management, recognised internationally for over 50 years, applies to the NHS as well? My amazement is of course around the fact that this sort of thing gets published. Clear direction, staff engagement and support are fundamental tenets of the EFQM Excellence Model, Balanced Scorecard, Investors in People, Customer Service Excellence, and just about any other management model you can think of. Do we really need to re-invent this wheel purely for the NHS?

More valuable would be research on why such common sense and common knowledge is still not common practice in many organisations – NHS and elsewhere. In fact the report may contain a couple of clues here.

Firstly (to its credit) the report contains statistical evidence showing that theory does indeed work in practice. There is a positive correlation between staff engagement and results achieved, including higher patient satisfaction and lower mortality. However, I can't help wondering whether leaders who need such evidence to convince them of the intuitively obvious will possess the people management skills to put it into practice.

Secondly, there may be those who believe the NHS needs separate management research "because we're different". Yes, the NHS is different, unique even. But then so is every other public, private and third sector organisations in the world. One thing it has in common though is that it is staffed by human beings, who generally respond well to good management. The way it is done may certainly vary; there isn't a 'one size fits all' management technique. But the principles of good management are universal.

If NHS leaders need their own proof, then the report may not convince them anyway. Because any detractors will simply claim that it hasn't been proved for their particular team in their particular department in their particular part of the NHS. "Because we're different".

Let me add one more good practice management principle. Great organisations and great leaders look beyond their own environment, learn from others in very different service and industry sectors, understand what works and apply it in practical ways that suit their own situation. They don't need to re-invent the wheel, but they can fit it and make it run.

Check my web site at for more information and ideas.