Interesting article from the Observer’s Management Editor Simon Caulkin on efficiency savings of the type currently favoured by Bristol City Council through their freakishly weird ‘Customer Excellence Programme‘ (pdf).
After a brief meditation on the nature of madness, Caulkin comes out with this:
Part of the self-referencing madness is seeking assurance from experts who are so attached to current assumptions that they can’t see beyond them … Getting the former chief executive of an IT services firm to advise on office efficiency is like asking McDonald’s to devise an obesity policy. Guess what, the answer is fast food! More standardised procedures, more streamlining of back offices, more shared services … in sum, more work for IT services companies.
Gee! Just like appointing a wealthy twit who runs an IT company to be your Executive Member for Efficiency and Value for Money who proceeds to breathlessly promote your completely bonkers ‘Customer Excellence Programme’ and propose a further £12m spend on IT isn’t it?
Look at the “cost savings” made at the Department for Work and Pensions and HM Revenue & Customs. Both these flagships of public-sector reform have been subject to top-down makeovers along approved factory lines. Dumbed-down “front offices” sort and feed incoming cases to specialised processing sections in the “back office” in the belief that these mass-production techniques will cut the unit cost of transactions and harvest economies of scale.
Back office? Front office? Where have we heard this before? Here’s some more:
Even in manufacturing, economies of scale lost their grail-like allure when the Japanese discovered how to make small quantities of different, high-quality goods cheaply. In services the case is at best unproven (banks, anyone?), and so far the successes in shared services are few and far between. But even if they do make transactions cheaper, that’s irrelevant if from the citizen’s point of view the service is worse, requiring more transactions to put right.
Oh dear. Not looking good is it? Shared Services? That’s what that planned shiny new city council call centre in the Somerfield’s HQ is all about isn’t it?
And totally “unproven” it all may be. But don’t worry, our fearless senior city council officer class have still managed to put a price on it and “estimate council taxpayers will save nearly £1.5 million within five years” would you believe?
Caulkin then ends as he begins on the subject of madness:
In times of transformation, not only do new problems arise; old ways of looking at things become problems themselves. That’s the infinite regression the cost-savings programmes being rammed through lock us into; it is, perhaps, a third form of madness.
At last! It’s official! Biggles, Ormondroyd, that copper from Sheffield and the rest of them are all bonkers!