Welcome to the new version of European Tribune. It's just a new layout, so everything should work as before - please report bugs here.

A Modest Proposal

by Frank Schnittger Fri Nov 14th, 2008 at 11:28:17 AM EST


The Irish Government's popularity rating has sunk to unprecedented depths in recent weeks due to a number of crazy cutback decisions. First, there was the attempt to cut Medical Cards (entitlement to fee public heath care) from over 70 year olds, then there was the decision not to go ahead with the provision of anti-Cervical cancer injections for 12 year old girls - a decision certain to increase mortality from Cancer. Average class sizes in Irish schools, already amongst the highest in Europe, are to be increased. Special provision for immigrant or special needs students is to be cut. A huge number of charitable and advocacy groups are to have their budgets slashed, their doors closed, or their operations absorbed into an inert Civil Service.

All of this is happening because a huge "black hole" has appeared in the Government's finances chiefly because of the end of the building boom - with its huge stamp duty and VAT revenue windfalls - and a collapse of corporate profitability and consumer expenditure - expenditure which had largely been funded by an explosion in private debt.

On the cost side, social welfare payments are spiraling as unemployment rises at an unprecedented rate.  Meanwhile the cost of living is going through the roof because of increases in Student registration fees (50%), road toll charges (50%), utility bills and private health insurance.  And whilst all this is happening, the EU Commission, living in another world, is proposing to sanction Ireland for a prospective breach in our public sector deficit obligations under the The Stability and Growth Pact.

So what is to be done?


Well it would be facile to pretend there is any easy solution.  Years of building up a very highly paid and grossly inefficient public service cannot be reversed overnight. Ireland is now a four class society:

  1. A very small ultra wealthy elite who control much of Irish business but who have globalised their operations (and sometimes their tax domicile) and who are almost beyond all democratic control because they can simply shift many of their assets elsewhere if their interests in Ireland are threatened.

  2. A large class of public servants with guaranteed job security, much higher than average pay rates, and pensions to die for - linked to final salary and linked not just to inflation, but to all pay and productivity increases achieved by their still working colleagues.  These salaries (and related pensions) have been bloated in recent years by the payment of almost entirely fictitious "productivity" payments allegedly "benchmarked" against private sector salaries, but in reality cherry picking the highest private sector salaries during a boom period and not talking any account of productivity at all.

  3.  A Large class of private sector employees, some of whom were very well paid indeed during the boom years, but the majority earning much less than public sector workers and having almost no job security or pension provision by comparison.  These are the people now losing their jobs in huge numbers, becoming at risk of defaulting on their mortgages (Ireland has the highest rate of home ownership in Europe) and with only very inadequate public housing, health care, and social welfare to fall back on.

  4. A now rapidly expanding class of people who were always bypassed by the Celtic Tiger - the old, rural small farmers, unemployed, single mothers, some ethnic minorities, drug users, the ill - and who were always inadequately provided for and are now bearing the brunt of Government cutbacks.

The political trick the public sector class have managed to pull off over the years is to pretend to be the protectors of class 4, and to conflate classes 1. and 3. in order to pretend that the private sector (as a whole) did much better during the boom years, to demand parity with the best of the private sector workers, and to ignore the fact that there was never any parity whatsoever in terms of the relative productivity, flexibility, job security, and pension provision between the public and private sectors.  

Many public sector jobs could be cut, their often meager functions abolished, restructured, automated or transferred to others with almost no impact on the public good at all.  But such cutbacks are always the last to be made, because such cutbacks would impact on the power base of the Civil Service and the public sector unions, whose symbiotic alliance represents the real power in the land, beyond all public or democratic control or accountability.

Many public sector workers (and certainly their Unions) espouse this state of affairs as socialism - contrasting their salaried status with the ultra wealthy of class 1, and conveniently ignoring the realities of the vast majority in classes 3 and 4. None of this seemed to matter much during the boom years when many in class 3 were indeed doing very well in cash terms - always forgetting that there was never any parity in job security and pensions - and that those in class 4 were, if anything, more marginalized than ever by the wealth the Celtic Tiger brought to the majority.

With unemployment going down throughout the 1990's and early 2000's and with nominal increases in social welfare and other forms of social provision, it could indeed be argued that the public service, who manned a maze of quangos and public advocacy groups - were the protectors of class 4.  But it is these services which are now being cut back, as the public service class draws up the drawbridges around their castle walls, totally insulated from the insecurity, unemployment, and reduced living standards rampant all around by their recently negotiated pay increases, their guaranteed jobs and pensions, and totally inured of any requirement to actually produce increased value for money for their services.

And that is the nub of the problem I am trying to address in this diary.  It is not as if there aren't many thousands of excellent civil servants, doing a very conscientious job, and who do provide good value for money to the taxpayers and general citizens and inhabitants of Ireland.  The problem is their is no structural incentive for them to do so, and every incentive not to.

The presiding culture of the Irish Civil service has been to try to increase their budgets, manning levels, and policy reach - in competition with other departments and the private sector - and no incentive whatsoever to improve the productivity by which those services are provided.  Indeed I have known senior civil service officials to refuse to countenance productivity improvements because they would undermine their case for increased budgets and staffing levels.

Anyone reading this diary would be forgiven for thinking that Ireland had been governed by Socialist parties for the past 30 years.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Most Governments espoused the virtues of the private sector.  Unfortunately they showed a singular ineptness in managing both the public and private sectors - such that some private sector companies managed to make windfall profits by cherry picking lucrative contracts in the public domain - and their Civil Servants always managed to ensure that anything a conscientious Government Minister sought to do for (say) class 4 came at great cost in terms of increased public sector bureaucracy.

Ultimately this diary isn't about public versus private at all, because both can be spectacularly well and badly run.  It is about a complete failure of management per se, of ensuring that given objectives are achieved in the most efficient manner possible, and that the means by which they are achieved are subject to ongoing review, continuous improvement, and cost reduction as new organizational structures, technologies and evidence based improvements in working outcomes are introduced.

I don't have a problem with a highly paid and well reward public sector provided they also deliver commensurate benefits to the common good.  But this has not been happening in Ireland.  Sometimes the rapaciousness of some sections of the private sector has been matched only by the inertia, cynicism, capriciousness and self serving self absorption which has flourished in so much of the public services.  Indeed one has often facilitated the other.

Many reasoned voices will chaff at the lack of evidence I have produced in support of this thesis.  They will ask for evidence for lack of flexibility and productivity in the public service.  For some it is counter-intuitive to suggest that this might be so - just as it is deemed axiomatic that the private sector will be greedy and self serving.  However disallowing all scrutiny of efficiency and service levels, all accountability for decision making and bad outcomes, and all measures of value for money is what the Irish Civil Service has excelled in.

Sometimes the market can impose disciplines on the private sector that are absent in the public sector.  Some inefficient firms do lose market share and go to the wall unless they can exploit some uneven playing pitch such as preferential regulatory treatment.  However there has been no effective discipline on the public sector at all.  Our politicians are predominantly lawyers, publicans, school teachers, even sportsmen.  Worthy public figures (almost) all.  But what they have in common is almost no expertise in running truly large scale organizations at all.

Because of the doctrine of public accountability, a Minister is (allegedly) held to account for virtually everything that happens in his Department, - even things he was never told about.  It is thus easy for senior civil servants to threaten to sabotage a political career by leaking unfortunate occurrences within a Department.  In practice this rarely happens.  Ministers are quickly house trained into a mentality of "you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours".  Almost none have ever attempted to dramatically reorganise a department.  None have an expertise in the dynamics of organisational change, and the combination of long term benefits allied to short term trauma such change can often bring is anathema to the short term quick fix culture and reality of political life.

So what we have in Ireland is as much a crisis of our Democracy, as it is a crises in our economy.  There has been a failure of political management of the public sector as great as the market failure to manage the excesses of global financial management.  In each case the self-interests of those in power have trumped the larger interests of all market participants and citizens.  Both elites - the global financial elites - and the local administrative elites - have managed to put their interests above those they are allegedly pledged to serve.

Political constitutions - and market regulations - are supposed to be there to create more even playing fields and to ensure that those entrusted with managing the systems do not exploit their positions for personal political, professional, or economic gain.  Our political systems have failed not only to regulate the markets, but to regulate the bureaucracies which are supposed to be there for the common good.  We have been done by both our private financial elites and by our public administrative elites.  Too often they seem to act in cahoots.

The problem I have with much "progressive discourse" is that it very accurately chronicles the depredations of Capitalism whilst being blind to the total inadequacy of our political systems to manage effectively those resources already entrusted to the public domain.  Left Right political discourse is stuck in a rut of Public versus Private ownership debate whereas the reality is that both public and private elites have managed both public and private organisations in their own interests.

Government and public administration has become too complex for the average citizen - and many politicians - to comprehend.  We need a new discourse which challenges the efficacy of all resource utilization on our planet - whether public or private - and better systems of qualitative and quantitative measurement, process improvement, transparency and accountability.  Otherwise Left-Right discourse becomes degraded to two elites jockeying for advantage and ordinary people are exploited no matter whether the nominal Left or Right are in power.

So what are the principles of public administration which could improve this situation?

  1. All Public Servants should be publicly accountable for their budgets and are are required to issue comparable and auditable statistics on their quality and quantity of services provided compared to similar service providers elsewhere within the state and other reference EU states. This could start at the highest levels of organistions, and gradually move down to individual units with a budget of (say) greater than €1 M.

  2. Each Public service to produce annual plans on how it will improve the quality/quantity/value for money of existing services and any additional services it proposes to provide.  This should include the cost reductions it proposes to achieve where no increased, additional or changed services have been mandated.

  3. Such service plans to include an audited (where required) account of the degree to which the previous plan was achieved.

  4.  All service plans and progress reports to be available publicly on the Government website for each budget heading and sub heading in a standard format and with comparable and historical charts of progress in comparison over time and with respect to reference groups in other nominated EU or best practice jurisdictions. Public scrutiny to be invited!

In practice, independent, commercial and community groups in receipt of public funding have to do much of the above already.  The stark innovation here is to apply the same disciplines to the Public Service itself. Don't hold your breath.  Direct accountability cuts to the very heart of the public service empires which have emerged.  Measurability and comparability will be resisted tooth and nail - on the grounds that some things can't be measured.  Inputs and outputs can, actions and there consequences must be, otherwise there is no guarantee that private agendas will take precedence over the public good.

It's time Public servants were mandated to serve the public again, and became directly accountable to the public for the services provided.  This may sound so simple and obvious as to not need stating.  In practice it would represent a revolutionary change.

Display:
I wrote a long comment and lost it.

Condensed version:

1) Ducking out of some kind evidence provision by accusing me of being ideologically blind doesn't wash, at the very least you could provide some evidence about salary levels of public vs private sector, for those of us not from Ireland.

In particular you should pay attention to the difference between the pay for "public sector elites" and the rest. It's a common thing for some people to rail against guaranteed pensions using the salaries of the best paid public workers as an example but with little calculation attention to the bulk of the workforce.

2) The mechanics of project plans etc. is already present in the public sector in many major European countries, are you saying it isn't in Ireland - or just that the results are not published to the public?

(I don't know anywhere that they are published in detail to the public yet.)

by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Fri Nov 14th, 2008 at 01:03:59 PM EST
All fair points.  I know it's a bit of a rant and it would take a bit of work to work up some concrete example which I will try to do in the next few days.  I was torn between writing for an Irish and an ET audience.  Many Irish readers would be aware that some of the more directly comparable jobs in the Irish public sector - e.g. teachers, nurses, doctors - are very well paid compared to the UK or France - but I hate to pick on the front line workers because they're the ones who are already accountable - in some degree - to their patients/parents - and many do an excellent job.

What I hope comes through is that my real targets are the bureaucrats behind the scenes who have often done a shocking job in many instances but always avoid accountability.  There has been an  huge amount of empire building going on.  The health service was re-centralised a few years ago - from many regional boards to one - but far from cutting out duplication in services and management, this actually resulted in an increase in admin staff and a huge number of promotions.  Even insiders admit it was a total sham - as they admit that the "Benchmarking" increases for productivity were in most instances a joke.

Much of what I say would not be particularly controversial to public servants (speaking in private).  They are aware there are big problems, and that something has to give.  They're just not sure where the leadership is going to come form.

notes from no w here

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Nov 14th, 2008 at 01:22:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I must be missing where Franck accuses you of anything. I don't find it and I don't have the courage to look for it a third time.

Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not every man's greed. Gandhi
by Cyrille (cyrillev domain yahoo.fr) on Sat Nov 15th, 2008 at 03:02:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You have to accept that people will take it personally if you challenge the received wisdom on ET.  See also Colman's comment below.  That's the main reason why so many people leave or don't join up in the first place.

notes from no w here
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sat Nov 15th, 2008 at 05:13:07 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Eh, I didn't take it personally... but I did want to point up that I think the demand for some evidence isn't just an ideological stalling tactic - which is what Frank's rhetorical device was getting at.

And I don't think I was unreasonable about it?

If so, I apologise.

by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Sat Nov 15th, 2008 at 06:02:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Metatone:
by accusing me of being ideologically blind
Yours was the first comment on my Diary - and thanks for that, I welcome debate particularly constructive debate, and I have always found you to be constructive - hence my surprise that you should use language implying I was accusing you of anything.

I have already accepted your point that the diary could be improved by the inclusion of more hard statistics - which will require more work but which I will do as time permits.  But please note that very little by way of information measuring productivity in the public service is ever gathered - let alone published - because there is an ideological objection, within the Civil service, to doing so.

I suppose my most general point would be that the public has a right to know how their money is being spent, allegedly for their benefit, and to objective information about the value for money of that spending,  Hence my "modest proposal" that such information should be generated and published in the future.  You can hardly accuse me of failing to furnish information when the basic problem is that it is never produced, and when the point of my diary is that it should be produced in the future.

notes from no w here

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sat Nov 15th, 2008 at 06:23:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]
My only understanding of the phrase you quote from Metatone is that he was clumsily (he did explain he lost a longer comment and was quickly summarising) parrying in advance the objection that a request for evidence was just due to ideological blinkers. Indeed clumsily expressed, and preview is our friend...

Still, I don't follow you on "received wisdom". What is the "received wisdom" here on public servants? Do you think this:

European Tribune - A Modest Proposal

Ultimately this diary isn't about public versus private at all, because both can be spectacularly well and badly run. It is about a complete failure of management per se, of ensuring that given objectives are achieved in the most efficient manner possible, and that the means by which they are achieved are subject to ongoing review, continuous improvement, and cost reduction as new organizational structures, technologies and evidence based improvements in working outcomes are introduced.

would not be subscribed to by almost everyone here (subject to some discussion about the exact purpose and outcome of "cost reduction")? As long as we are clearly looking at private sector failures in the same way, and Ford knows there can be massive inefficiency, poor management, snoozing on rent, failure to deliver service, in big private sector organisms. And provided also that we can recognize that, if the public sector should be accountable for its use of the public's money (the public has a right to know how their money is being spent), we should also wonder where the private sector's money comes from if not from our pockets (and in a much less freely chosen way than market ideology would have it).

Equally your comment about people "taking it personally" seems exaggerated: the comment by Colman that you point to is no more testy than the tone of half of your diary, after all. And what is that you want of us, anyway? To have no point of view? Or to show Olympian detachment, sit back and blandly roll out calm and measured arguments backed by the impressive data we just happen to have to hand on the question (in fact, to do what you haven't done in your diary ;))? You are practically asking members here to behave as if they were getting paid to do a job. And ET becomes what, in that case? A kind of professionally-run debating hall open to the four winds?

Failing this, apparently you see us as doomed.

That's the main reason why so many people leave or don't join up in the first place.

Perhaps you have evidence that "so many people" leave, and you know why they do so? As for those who don't join up in the first place, it's rather hard to quantify them or understand their motives. So I find your statement quite stunning.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sat Nov 15th, 2008 at 10:12:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
afew:
Perhaps you have evidence that "so many people" leave, and you know why they do so? As for those who don't join up in the first place, it's rather hard to quantify them or understand their motives. So I find your statement quite stunning.

Well of that half dozen or so who told me they came over from Timesonline, only Valentin remains.  The Third Column left after feeling set upon, if I recall.  The others  told me by email that they felt intimidated by the content and tone. (I don't know if they ever registered or just lurked).  Some current ETers have also told me privately they also feel hurt by their treatment on ET - particularly by prominent members who they feel specialise in snarky comments and rarely have anything positive to contribute.

I'm not saying that some of this isn't inevitable or unavoidable, I'm just disappointed by what appears to me to be a lack of growth in the active membership on ET since I joined - but I don't have figures on that.  Perhaps you have figures on the growth in the number of diaries, and comments, and in the number of people actually commenting over the past year.

notes from no w here

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sat Nov 15th, 2008 at 06:54:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
To be honest, I think it was always unlikely that a group of people who congregated around the comments on a newspaper site as conservative as Murdoch's Times, would settle into ET and find it congenial. If you want to talk about The Third Column's victimisation claims, we can do so, since I am generally supposed to be the villain of the piece and I plead not guilty (and am willing to discuss the evidence). That might turn out to be tedious, so I'll just ask you again: what would you have us do? Is ET a place for regular cross-posting of conservative ideas that form the real "received wisdom" of our time, without the poster accepting debate, challenge, questions? What kind of bland fluffiness is needed, in your view?

I'm not going to answer your following point. It's the private emails thing again. I suggest people who feel hurt by snarky comments should say so - by writing to the perpetrator, if they don't want to speak openly. By the time we'd worked all that out, we'd probably find that all of us have been hurt at different times by words and perceived attitudes (I have). I'll say again: though there's always room for improvement, ET is a warm and civil place in the blogosphere.

There are no stats of the kind you outline available to me via Scoop. Sitemeter, however, shows an improvement in monthly visits and page views on the same autumn months in 2007. Not spectacular, but a rise.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sun Nov 16th, 2008 at 03:13:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think it would be unfair to characterise the Timesonline people as overly conservative - they were looking for another home because of the snarky Eurosceptic comments often found there.  If I were to generalise I would say they were pro-EU social democrats who generally liked my posts (which is why they e-mailed me and were upset when I said I leaving there to come here).  I appreciate, of course, that you might not like more people of my views here!

If you have read the comments on many of my diaries, I think you will see that I occasionally engage in reasonably robust debate especially when attacked personally.  However I am increasingly of the view that it isn't worth my while bothering to respond to snarky comments especially where there seems to be no attempt to contribute in a positive way or add valuable information on a topic.

I'm prepared to accept I may have over-reacted on this occasion and become over sensitized about it because it has happened a few times recently and a few other ETers have also expressed their disillusion to me.  I'm torn between confronting such behaviour and just ignoring it - but I have now decided that it isn't worth it and will just move on.

(PS The reference to The Third Column wasn't directed at you - I came in late on that controversy and wasn't aware anyone held you to be particularly culpable.  I have a very short memory for such spats but my vague memory is that some other contributors were more unhelpful)

notes from no w here

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sun Nov 16th, 2008 at 04:39:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
OK, just one reply: more people like you here, sure, but those who have come along and commented haven't quite given off that aura! ;)
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Mon Nov 17th, 2008 at 01:09:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Not sure what you mean by "that aura". Do I smell that bad, or am I just an argumentative son of a bitch? Anyway, thanks, I'll take it as a compliment, even if puzzled at what an internet emitted aura would constitute!  PS you have something of an Aura yourself - one of sweet reasonableness, so I'm not sure why you get into trouble - by your own account...

notes from no w here
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Nov 17th, 2008 at 11:46:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
What received wisdom do you think you're challenging here? Apart from "question unsupported assertions"?
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Sat Nov 15th, 2008 at 10:20:29 AM EST
[ Parent ]

people will take it personally if you challenge the received wisdom on ET.  See also Colman's comment below.  That's the main reason why so many people leave or don't join up in the first place.

What's the received wisdom of ET on the EU Constitution? What's the received wisdom on ET on nuclear energy? what's the received wisdom of ET on astrology? What's the received wisdom on ET on the ECB interest rate policy?

Bleh.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sat Nov 15th, 2008 at 12:06:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, I once was on the receiving end of "received wisdom" about train drivers, and without having been particularly controversial.
Not that all of ET necessarily shared it, but all I got was a barrage of, well, not necessarily fully in good faith replies.

I stayed around though, and I must admit that such incidents are MUCH rarer than on other blogs, so let's not blame that on ET particularly.

Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not every man's greed. Gandhi

by Cyrille (cyrillev domain yahoo.fr) on Sat Nov 15th, 2008 at 01:18:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
what do you mean, "not necessarily in good faith" ? Driving a train is as hard as flying a plane.  

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères
by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Sun Nov 16th, 2008 at 04:59:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm afraid that you sound rather like you're rehashing talking points from the Independent and friends. What are the numbers to support your contentions, especially with classes 2 and 3? Most public workers aren't all that well paid, as far as I can tell.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Nov 14th, 2008 at 01:07:04 PM EST
Oh, and you're missing a key point: it's not the public servants fault, entirely or even mainly. Ireland has failed to put in place any system to counteract the electoral system's tendency to clientism which is largely responsible for much of the gross stupidity in the public service - decentralisation for instance, and assorted dumb duplications of health services.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Nov 14th, 2008 at 01:09:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Good IT systems enable many services to be decentralised, and there is nothing wrong in principle with localizing Government services so that there is a "one stop shop" for many public services in all large towns and regional centres.  Indeed good organisational design priciples mandates organising front-line services around customers.

That wasn't what was done of course - or even attempted.  The Civil Service tried to off load non-core activities into local areas without any customer or organisational logic - yes - largely because of McCreepy's faux populism, bt don't blame the customers.  It was up to the Civil Service leadership to come up with a coherent strategy for decentralization - in terms of efficiency and service quality improvement.  That wasn't even on the agenda.

notes from no w here

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Nov 14th, 2008 at 01:31:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Public services don't have customers. That's businesses you're thinking of.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Nov 14th, 2008 at 01:39:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
We'll have to differ on that - and I think that is a big part of the problem.  The attitude that Public Servants don't have to provide a publicly accountable service.  That's why some people go private for health care - even if they can't afford it - because they feel at least then the service providers have some accountability to them.

Things have come to a sorry pass when people feel that private services provide a better / more responsive service than equally well funded public services.

The usual canard to justify this is "lack of resources".  However expenditure on public health care has tripled in recent years - and people just don't see where the value has been added.

We can play games with words - customers, clients, service users etc.  The bottom line is that the public are paying for public services and deserve to be treated with respect - ideally better than they receive from "for profit" enterprises.  

notes from no w here

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Nov 14th, 2008 at 01:56:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Customers are something you make a profit from. That is not the right framing of the relationship at all.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Sat Nov 15th, 2008 at 10:15:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
well, if you didn't, you wouldn't be able to go on serving them, right?

i know you're jiving colman, but isn't the attitude you parody in that comment really the kernel of anglo disease?

one thing about the name 'anglo' for it, you wouldn't have to waste any time explaining it to latinos, they'd know instantly what you meant.

as would native americans and african americans if you called it 'white man's disease'.

"We can all be prosperous but we can't all be rich." Ian Welsh

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Sat Nov 15th, 2008 at 11:50:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Decentralisation wasn't about IT systems. It was about moving jobs into marginal constituencies for electoral benefit: thus my concerns about clientism. What was the Civil Service to so with that?

It was up to the Civil Service leadership to come up with a coherent strategy for decentralization - in terms of efficiency and service quality improvement.

Isn't the "Civil Service leadership" generally known as the ministers in charge?
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Sat Nov 15th, 2008 at 10:19:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I Don't read the Indo, either Sunday or daily,  so can't comment on that accusation.  

Public-Private Wage Differentials in Ireland, 1994-2001

Are public sector workers in Ireland paid more than private sector employees, when such differences in productivity-related personal attributes and job characteristics are controlled for? We estimate that in 2001 the premium enjoyed by public servants was about 13 per cent. We find that the premium, is significantly bigger for those near the bottom of the earnings distribution than for those near the top, was significantly bigger for women than men in the mid-1990s but not at the end of the 1990s, and does not vary significantly across different levels of educational attainment. We estimate the premium for 2001 to be not significantly different from that estimated for 1994 despite this period a period of exceptionally rapid output and employment growth, and correspondingly sharp tightening of labour market conditions in the Irish economy. The most remarkable difference between our results and those of other researchers for other countries relates to the absolute size of the premium. A number of possible explanations for this difference are discussed.

I'll do some digging for more recent data

notes from no w here

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Nov 14th, 2008 at 01:38:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
A lot of statistics for public sector pay in France need to be corrected for the fact that the largest contingent of "public sector workers" are teachers, ie highly educated workers that get paid more than the average worker - but significantly less than similarly qualified workers in the private sector.

ie public sector workers are, thanks to teachers, much more educated, on average, but their pay is higher by a lot less than it should.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Fri Nov 14th, 2008 at 03:27:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There's less pay than in the private sector here.  Congress and Bush Sr passed a law in (I think) 1990 saying they were going to bump federal workers up to parity -- by their measure about 31% higher for DC people than we're currently paid, although that strikes me as a bump that would put us quite a bit above the private sector.  But at the same time, there's a bit more job security and better benefits than you'd typically get in the private sector, so it balances out a bit.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.
by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Fri Nov 14th, 2008 at 06:49:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
In Ireland, private sector teachers also get paid the standard rate by the state, and may then get paid a premium by by their private employer for taking on additional responsibilities - sports supervision, night and week-end supervision in Boarding schools etc.  The idea being that the state would have to provide an education for those kids if the private school wasn't doing so in any case.

Virtually all teachers have tenure - i.e. are basically unsackable for anything but a criminal offence connected with their job.

notes from no w here

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sat Nov 15th, 2008 at 05:10:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
is that teachers are rather lowly paid given the education level. But they still get a decent pay compared to overall averages (which include lots of less-qualified workers), thus giving the - false - impression that public sector workers are paid more than in the private sector.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sat Nov 15th, 2008 at 12:09:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
My core argument is about a lack of accountability within the Civil Service per se - and as I said above - I don't want to dump on teacher/nurses in particular because being front-line workers they are to some small degree already accountable to the students/parents/patients.  However an international comparison would be interesting as there is at least some degree of comparability between the jobs.  The Pay scale for a secondary school teacher is from €32K in year one to 62K after 25 years service for a c. 167 day standard school year.  How does that compare to the UK or France?

notes from no w here
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sat Nov 15th, 2008 at 05:44:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Base teacher pay in France. Much, much lower : around 23K€ gross after two years.

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères
by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Sun Nov 16th, 2008 at 05:07:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Pull the other one, it has got bells on.

Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not every man's greed. Gandhi
by Cyrille (cyrillev domain yahoo.fr) on Mon Nov 17th, 2008 at 01:11:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Huh ?

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères
by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Mon Nov 17th, 2008 at 04:51:56 AM EST
[ Parent ]
According to the Ministère de l'Education Nationale, baseline pay for almost all primary and secondary teachers after 2 years is less than €19K net.

Which probably corresponds to linca's figure of €23K gross.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Mon Nov 17th, 2008 at 09:02:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]
(don't click, but I believe we are linking the same page...)

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères
by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Mon Nov 17th, 2008 at 09:18:13 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Oops, didn't notice the link!
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Mon Nov 17th, 2008 at 09:20:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
So you can see why the Irish secondary teachers pay scale from 32-62K is causing some budgetary problems.  However the actual salary isn't even my main concern - I don't have a problem with paying good professionals well.  The problem is that there are no effective mechanisms for reviewing teacher performance and you can't be sacked for incompetence or a couldn't care less attitude - something which damages the teaching profession and the education system as a whole.  Our primary Public Policy concern should be for the students, not the interests of the Teachers.

Again however, I wouldn't want to single out the teachers in this debate - the Irish education system isn't the worst.  However my argument is that our Civil Service system - particularly the non-customer facing middle and senior grades - which are also very well paid - are amongst the most self-interested - with almost no effective mechanisms for ensuring that they do actually serve the public interest in terms of efficient organizational design, good quality services, and good value for money.

notes from no w here

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Nov 17th, 2008 at 10:46:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The French teaching payscale causes its own problems - at one point around 1990, physics courses started one year later than beforehand, because scientific graduates simply wouldn't pass the competitive exam in sufficient numbers. And that's with universities that were very, very unfriendly to the idea of preparing students to work in private companies...

Another thing is that teachers - and people identifying with them - are a significant portion of the voting population. Significant enough that their interests are to be taken into account when designing policy, if only as citizens.

Finally, I'm all for worker participation in the workplace - which also implies the input of teachers in the education system. Indeed, the teachers unions speak a lot about pedagogy, much more than a metallurgists union speaks about making good metal...

The impression I am getting from your diary is that it is not the average frontline civil servant who is unmanaged and needs efficiency and measuring of its output - but rather the management, who is getting an increased share of pay, and is all about wasteful bureaucratic infighting. I'd even venture part of the problem is that the frontline civil servants, those that usually care about providing good service, are not involved enough in management... One of the problems in a bureaucracy is that those that want power, not those that care about the service, end up in leading positions, if only because a motivated teacher actually wants to be in front of the pupils...

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères

by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Mon Nov 17th, 2008 at 10:57:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I would also imagine that, at those pay rates, many brilliant potential teachers would prefer to work in more remunerative professions.  I know a little more about the UK system - where teachers are also paid much less than in Ireland - and also seem to have much lower status.  The result is that they often don't attract very good or very motivated teachers.

I take your point about front-line versus managerial staff.  Sometimes the introduction of more measurement/control systems can have the effect of demotivating and de-statusing front line workers relative to managerial staff - so that no-one with any ambition, status, or earnings needs wants to work in the front line.

The most effective motivational systems are almost always participatory - involving the people in their own management - and harnessing peoples natural desires to do a good job.  Big brother is watching you is almost always counter productive.

Good management is about focusing and building organisations around their client needs, and rewarding positive performance as opposed to cynical disregard for the students/clients/customers etc.

Unions have an important role in collective bargaining and in protecting individual employees from capricious management.  They should never stand over restrictive practices which prevent staff development and improved customer service which will intimately improve the status of the organisation/profession as a whole.

My concern is that Public service - which is a noble calling when done conscientiously - is being dragged into disrepute by cynical attitudes which wouldn't even be funny if found on Yes Minister.

notes from no w here

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Nov 17th, 2008 at 11:31:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
My belief is that unions, and/or any form of employee feedback not going through the ordinary hierarchy, has a role much beyond collective bargaining and protection from capricious management ; and should be involved in the actual definition of how the work should be done, and what should be done. Beyond injecting knowledge of what happens in the front lines, it is the only way to harness "the noble calling of Public Service".

Anyway, who is to be satisfied by a public service ? The taxpayers ? The politicians ? The voters ? The "clients" (in a private company, clients' opinions are only worth the money they'll spend, which is why the term provokes unease) or the "users" ? The workers ? The management ?

You have a problem of management in league with politicians, keeping workers happy through high pay. How do you increase the involvement of voters and users ? Is management techniques ? Or could this have something to do with, say, some EU referendum being put to vote again ?

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères

by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Mon Nov 17th, 2008 at 11:47:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The Government is in survival mode.  The EU referendum a distraction at best.  If high pay could buy votes, the YES vote would have won the last time around.  I really don't see much of a linkage.  If anything the EU is being made to look competent by comparison with the Government.

notes from no w here
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Nov 17th, 2008 at 12:04:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
What I'm saying is maybe the government doesn't care about citizens, and is much more careful about not making waves with their respective management. That's a problem with the government not really having to respect the will of the citizen - elite detachment of society, which is one of the major reason for no votes in France and, in my understanding, Ireland.

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères
by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Mon Nov 17th, 2008 at 12:17:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't understand your argument.  Its not as if there is a rich elite making it worth the while of Government members to be pro EU. Senior civil servants might like their EU junkets, but its not as if their expenses paid trips are going to stop.  Both groups are acutely aware that Ireland has managed to punch above its eight in terms of maximising our benefits from the EU, and that is now at risk at a time when we need such influence more than ever.

Current Government Ministers will almost certainly be kicked out at the next election in any case.  The YES vote side contained every major Government and Opposition party bar Sinn Fein, all major Trade Unions, and many sectoral groups representing business and agriculture.  

If you wanted to expand your political market share there was far more scope on the NO side - and arguably opposition parties like Labour could have greatly increased their prospective vote by opposing and attracting some of the 53% of the NO vote (only 8% of which supported Sinn Fein.

45% of the electorate is up for grabs - which is why there is a huge market opportunity for Libertas et al.  There is almost nothing in it for a political representative to support Lisbon - the reason they do so is because they generally support the EU and want to be on good terms with our fellow members.

notes from no w here

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Nov 17th, 2008 at 12:44:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
When no major "elite" group is going for such a large share of the vote that is up for grabs (as almost happened in France, too), it means that elite doesn't care much for the wishes and opinions of the population. This caring could be done in through a sincere attempt to convince a major part of the population of the benefits of the EU.

Up to a point, that's what Sarkozy did, with a populist appeal to the right wing No vote.

What I'm attempting to say is that the way none of the elite organisations that are supposed to represent the people attempt to actually interact with them - either by admitting that, indeed, the people are against it or by convincing it of changing their mind - and also, and more importantly, the way the people didn't trust their elites by voting yes on something pretty much, as you describe, the whole elites approved, are symptoms of an elite and its people not in contact.

In the same way a political class, and a bureaucratic managerial class, caring much more about bureaucratic infighting, and absence of outside noise, than quality of service provided, to the point, if what you describe is reality, of contempt for the end users of Public Services - is also a symptom of a similar illness.

Implementation of managerial techniques won't do much to reduce public insatisfaction with the public services, if the elite doesn't really care about that...

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères

by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Mon Nov 17th, 2008 at 01:04:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
In general, I'm a big fan of gathering data on all sorts of things and making it public. But (and you knew that there'd be a but...), only provided that the data gathered actually says something interesting. Otherwise, it's a waste of time and resources. A generalised demand that quantifiable data is produced means that quantifiable data will be produced, but it does not mean that the data will necessarily be relevant, interesting or even methodologically sound.

Industrial econometric data is both useful and relatively easy to obtain - each year, our industries produce so and so many tons of steel, so and so many gear boxes for windmills, so and so many refrigerators, etc. However, even with such obviously interesting and accessible data, there are caveats to the interpretation: What grade is the steel? Do the gearboxes break down in hard weather? How long do the refrigerators last and how much electricity do they use?

In some public sector institutions, it's also possible to provide relatively hard data on production: Do our schools succeed in imparting basic arithmetic on the kids in their care? How many patients do our hospitals cure? How many peer-reviewed papers does a university department produce? However, here as well some care must be taken in the interpretation of the data.

School performance is strongly predicted by the social class of the parents. That is in and of itself an indictment of the public school system, but it also means that raw performance data cannot be meaningfully compared between individual schools with different student demographics.

Hospitals can increase the number of patients cured pr. € spent by cutting back on nursing care - effectively externalising a part of the cost of curing patients onto their families and friends. Furthermore, "cure" is a somewhat malleable concept; at the very least, the number and severity of complications associated with operations has to be taken into account (and this is harder to measure because it's easier to hide a mistake during an operation than to manufacture performed operations out of thin air).

And while the number of research papers may be a meaningful data point for a department of - say - physics or biology (always keeping in mind that such data must be weighted by impact factor and cannot be compared between disciplines as there are different publishing traditions in - say - astrophysics and taxonomy) - it is flat out meaningless to attempt to construct simple, one-dimensional measures for the productivity of a humanities department, because there are several more venues of publicising research in the humanities than in the sciences (physicists, for instance, don't usually do monographs) and these are not easily comparable.

Finally, it should be remembered that some data is only meaningful if it is not used too crudely to direct policy. In most cases, what we measure isn't actually what we want to know - if we want to know whether the police is preventing, we might look at the number of reported crimes. But that doesn't tell us what the actual number of crimes is, only how many are reported. Now, normally that's not a big difference - after all, people usually report crimes to the police and the police usually collects data on reported crimes.

Imagine, however, that we enact a policy that demands that the police reduce the number of crimes committed in an area by 3 percent every year for five years, under pain of funding cuts if they fail (or conversely, promising additional funding if they succeed). Suddenly, the police has a powerful incentive to dismiss minor larceny as "pranks," to "forget" to report drunk driving and generally mess with the data.

(Of course in most cases that wouldn't happen, because the police is fortunately reasonably conscientious and doesn't respond to incentives the way right-wing politicians think people respond to incentives.)

So in conclusion, while I think that it is possible to meaningfully measure public service provision in much greater detail than is done today, I think that great care has to be taken if we are to ensure a) that the data itself is meaningful, b) that the data is used to inform policy decisions in ways that doesn't create incentives to distort the malleable data and c) that areas are not unduly neglected simply because they cannot - for perfectly excellent reasons - provide hard (and hard to manipulate) data.

- Jake

Austerity can only be implemented in the shadow of a concentration camp.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Sun Nov 16th, 2008 at 12:09:41 PM EST
A very good summary of the difficulties associated with generating meaningful metrics of service provision - and it is indeed possible to manipulate figures do that they don't mean very much very meaningful at all, and can sometimes be positively misleading.

As a general rule, however, my experience of management is that some metrics are better than none, and limited metrics - even with a variety of caveats -  can often point up huge problems/opportunities when compared to similar metrics for similar services in other jurisdictions - even if only to raise the question as to why the metrics could be so different.

What I am proposing is being done in well run organisations all the time- as a matter of routine -  and there is a lot of practical experience in the dealing with these issues.  

What I am talking about is the very reverse - the refusal to accept any accountability whatsoever - and to use every conceivable excuse for not doing so.  This is often a very blatant contempt for the service users - what do they, non-professionals - know about it anyway?

This is as much a structural political/cultural/ideological problem as a technical one.  Ultimately it is a problem that can only be resolved by political will and the adoption of best practice management techniques.

notes from no w here

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sun Nov 16th, 2008 at 01:25:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There is a political dimension, of course, but it's a little more complicated than bad civil servant fatcats being opposed to transparency and accountability.

One major political issue is that attempts to make public institutions accountable usually end up making them accountable to the government, rather than the end-user. In a lot of countries, quite a large part of the political spectrum simply isn't arguing or governing in good faith. Many (usually right-wing) politicians consistently lie through their teeth and are perfectly willing to seize upon any excuse - no matter how specious - to cut back on the provision of public services.

And when public institutions (often with good reason) view their democratically elected superiors as antagonists rather than partners, it is natural that they seek refuge in the only defence they have: Lack of transparency. If a minister goes toe-to-toe with a public institution, the minister wins. So the only way to prevent bad ministers from doing damage is to keep them in the dark.

I don't know enough about the political situation in Ireland to pass comment on that, but the past three iterations of Danish education, technology and science ministers have all (except one) both been blithering idiots and on a mission to cut the government down to a size where you can drown it in a bathtub. So at least in the Danish science and education community, considerable skepticism as to the good will and cooperative spirit of our elected officials is entirely justified.

But, you might argue, surely the minister - as the public's elected representative - represents the end-users. And in principle, you're right. But given that it takes a decade (at least) to build up - say - a university department and only a single year of no funding to break it down, and given that elections are only once every 3-5 years, the public cannot always rein in their representatives in time to save valuable public institutions.

I won't go into my own preferred version of public sector accountability here, because I've already written about it at some length elsewhere, and the underlying issues of local vs. centralised and direct vs. representative democracy are a bit afield from the original thrust of the diary.

- Jake

Austerity can only be implemented in the shadow of a concentration camp.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Sun Nov 16th, 2008 at 02:20:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
At one point five years ago, Sarkozy was minister of the Interior, and wanted to show he was "tough on crime" so asked to five prefet with the worst crime increases in their département to come and get shouted at. One of the préfets came from the sparsely populated Corrèze - a chequebook had been stolen, and each of the individual stolen cheque had been reported as an individual incident, thus the rise.

A better public service will come with better politicians overseeing it, not with cutting edge management techniques...

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères

by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Sun Nov 16th, 2008 at 05:14:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Generally Politicians are policy makers not managers, and regardless of who ultimately does the managing, good management processes will be required in any case.

notes from no w here
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sun Nov 16th, 2008 at 07:36:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The line between "policy" and "management" is a blurry one. What would you call a dean at a university? I'd call it a political position - a policymaker, if you will - but most people would call it a management position.

As an aside, where does one learn to be a good manager? The bizniz skools have "management courses" where they teach lean, just in time and new public management. But from the perspective of the people at the sharp end of the stick, those management techniques look as dubious as faith-healing. If nothing else, the notion that a single management technique can possibly apply to all kinds of business (or even all industrial business or all public sector business) should raise a series of little red flags spelling out "snake oil ahead."

And the attitude that those classes teach is even worse. When I have the bad luck to encounter someone who's been indoctrinated in one of those cults, I usually - in very short order - end up thinking "was this guy always and arrogant, overbearing prick who thought that he knew better than the people who are actually doing something useful in this enterprise? Or did they teach him that?"

- Jake

Austerity can only be implemented in the shadow of a concentration camp.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Mon Nov 17th, 2008 at 02:14:16 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I wouldn't call Lean or just in time a management technique.
And your last paragraph appears almost as arrogant as you make out those "indoctrinated in those cults" people to be. Although I have no idea about what new public management is, so maybe those truly deserve such scorn, I wouldn't know.

Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not every man's greed. Gandhi
by Cyrille (cyrillev domain yahoo.fr) on Mon Nov 17th, 2008 at 03:20:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Maybe it's just the Danish business schools that're bad. Or maybe it's just that I only notice the ones who are being pricks about it. But I really do seem to run into a lot of managers who want to do things in ways that have already been tried, have been found wanting and have been discarded by the people on the sharp end of the stick. And who then refuse to take responsibility when it (of course) blows up in everybody's face.

I don't mind being given impossible political directives. But I do mind being blamed when I fail to carry out a directive that is obviously impossible. Particularly when I've explained precisely why it's impossible well ahead of time.

- Jake

Austerity can only be implemented in the shadow of a concentration camp.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Mon Nov 17th, 2008 at 05:15:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I wouldn't put KaosPilot in Århus in the category of bad business schools - quite the opposite ;-)

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Mon Nov 17th, 2008 at 05:25:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I must confess that I actually never thought of KaosPiloterne as a business school. They always marketed themselves as an iværksætteruddannelse, which has a completely different vibe from handels(høj)skole. The Danish language is funny that way...

- Jake

Austerity can only be implemented in the shadow of a concentration camp.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Thu Nov 20th, 2008 at 10:26:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You're touching on a whole range of other issues here which are very dear to my heart but which I don't write about because they're a bit close to the bone.  You don't spend 24 years in management in a rapidly globalising business without having lost as many battles as you have won, and bearing a few scars.

As a rule, I only write about stuff I don't know all that much about.  Its easier to fit what I do know into a short diary, and you tend to learn more from the discussion.

However I can whole-heartedly endorse you comments about the average MBA school, particularly of the Anglo variety.  They are more about asset stripping and careerism than building up long term, sustainable, profitable but responsible businesses.

notes from no w here

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Nov 17th, 2008 at 08:27:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
JakeS:
The line between "policy" and "management" is a blurry one.

I think that IS part of the problem.  It should be much more delineated in in most organisations and particularly in public administration.

Policy making is about deciding what should be done, what the priorities should be, and at most, some broad parameters about how it should be done.  In a democracy, that is rightly the prerogative of elected Ministers answerable to a Parliament.  Here you want "ideas people", speech makers, good networkers, and people who are in touch with a broad range of popular sentiment.

Management or administration is a professional competency specialising in knowing how to turn broad policy priorities into actionable plans, and in designing organizations, and managing organisational change such that the structures are optimised to execute those plans.  Here you want hands on practical people, good motivators and people managers, and results orientated people who can also absorb a good deal of the scientific literature in that field.

The skills, competencies, and paradigms are quite different, and it is rare that you find people who are exceptional at both.  Politicians are notoriously lousy at the latter and generally make a mess if they try to venture into that field.

notes from no w here

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Nov 17th, 2008 at 08:40:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
But during the process of moving from "high-flying ideas" and "general strategy" to the level of implementation, a lot of decisions have to be made that I personally would call political decisions. I have very rarely seen a strategy paper that describes the objectives of the strategy in sufficient detail and with sufficient rigour to serve as guidelines for management decisions.

Maybe it's just that we have different views on which decisions are political and which are managerial. Or maybe it's because universities (where I have gotten most of my experience with how bureaucracies work) are qualitatively different from other kinds of organisations. Or maybe it's that the "strategies" I've been presented with have been worked out less as coherent policies than as ways to provide air cover for middle managers to ride their hobby horses. And then shout down criticism with a claim that they have a mandate to do so in The Strategy(TM) that's been approved at the policy level. All those are most certainly possible.

- Jake

Austerity can only be implemented in the shadow of a concentration camp.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Thu Nov 20th, 2008 at 10:38:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Its a fraught area, but all the more reason why you need a carefully designed process for converting nationally agreed strategies into local implementation plans and the various interim steps and sign off authorities that are required along the way - with each manager accountable for the part of the process he has signed off on.  

Some managers will do their step of the process better than others - e.g. convert a high level strategy into a lower level strategy, or a lower level strategy into a more cost effective action plan - and thus review processes are required to evaluate what worked better or worse and then to deploy the better plans more widely to the exclusion of the worse etc.

All decision trees in an organisation are amenable to process analysis, design and review.  It just isn't done very well in a lot of organisations, and hardly at all in some of the public sector organisations I have experience of..

notes from no w here

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Nov 20th, 2008 at 12:27:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
But that re-raises the issue of who managers should be accountable to. To their immediate superiors? To the relevant ministry? To the general public? To their employees? To the people who use their services?

To some extent, the answer is "all of the above" - but that becomes a pretty delicate balancing act when a minister is directly at cross-purpose with the users and employees of a public institution...

- Jake

Austerity can only be implemented in the shadow of a concentration camp.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Fri Nov 21st, 2008 at 11:29:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]


Display:
Go to: [ European Tribune Homepage : Top of page : Top of comments ]