Friday, 4 January 2013

CLG: 50 Shades of Desperation

Eric Pickles' Christmas gift to local government was advice on how to save money. His department's 50 Ways to Save (CLG, December 2012) suggests how Councils can trim budgets in order to make the savings demanded of them.

I had a feeling of dread before opening the document, which proved fully justified when I did so. Here we have a random collection of tired old ideas and trivial homilies. Can there really be any Councils in the country who haven't considered options such as improved procurement, electronic payments, tackling absenteeism and cutting meetings refreshments? I expected to see double-sided copying and reduced paperclip usage in there, but presumably they came in at numbers 51 and 52 on the list.

More depressing than the "ideas" themselves is the lack of serious thinking behind them. Almost without exception, these ideas are one-offs. Once you've done them, that's it - you can't repeat savings such as cutting first class travel and scrapping the Council's newspaper. Is the implication that once Councils have implemented all 50 of these ideas, they will be exempt from future cuts? I suspect not, so where do they go next?

Proof of this barrel-scraping approach lies in the fact that the entire text of this report contains not a single mention of the word 'efficiency'. And only one of the 50 mentions 'innovation'. (There are even a few that look politically motivated, but that's another story.)

What happened to lean, systems thinking, service redesign and other continuous improvement methods well established in both the private and public sectors? Where are the ideas that inspire people, change old-fashioned thinking and deliver real benefits? Not apparently in CLG, whose most recent Capability Review (Cabinet Office, 2006) rated it lower than the great majority of local authorities it oversees.

Needless to say, the '50 ways' include reducing training and consultancy budgets. If this document proves anything, it proves that Eric Pickles and CLG are desperately in need of such training and consultancy advice themselves.

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