Sunday 15 May 2011

Towards a new kind of efficiency

For most of this year, the publication of the Treasury’s Public Service Reform white paper has been horribly imminent. David Cameron even gave a speech raising the curtain on it. But nothing happened. It is still imminent.

Of course we know that, behind the scenes, there are struggles to shift the emphasis from mass privatisation to gentle mutualisation. It is far from clear yet whether the Treasury realise that the tools you need for one – big, industrial strength, shared commissioning – is very different from what you need for the other. We shall see.

But the real problem is that the coalition are only half way through a revolution in service thinking. They have got rid of targets, chucked out the Audit Commission, yet commissioning units get bigger and bigger, the disastrous shared back office systems continue to grow, and McKinsey consultants are still at large in the corridors of Whitehall.. The result? Sclerosis.

Will the white paper address this? It doesn’t seem very hopeful, really. But I spent this last week as a 'collaborator' of a pop-up think-tank based in an old Subway shop in Exmouth Market.  The result is my own advice for the government.  Because it seems to me that there is one way (well, four ways, actually) they can both increase the effectiveness and lower the cost of public services in the long term:

1. Make services more flexible
2. Build services which also reduce demand
3. Co-produce services to reach out and rebuild community.
4. Make services human scale

How are they going to do that? Well, you will have to read the POPse report The New Efficiency: Four ways forward to find out:

Thursday 12 May 2011

Mea culpa!

Is the collapse in the Lib Dem vote all my fault?

Here is the case for:

Wednesday 4 May 2011

Goodbye, HSBC

One thing I have managed to achieve in the last few months is to get shot of my personal bank account with HSBC.  I have had once since I was fifteen, when I shook hands with the bank manager in Maida Vale (the branch has been closed for years) and was then very proud of it.

When the closed their branch in Crystal Palace a few years ago I vowed I would leave, but it has taken me rather a long time to 'move my money', as the Huffington Post urged so successfully last year.  I feel rather good about having done so.

And one reason or this is that I worked out my own share of their bonus pot this year.  They have about 95m customers worldwide and paid out bonuses this spring to their staff worth £1.2 billion.  That means each of us customers have individually contributed about £12.60 (including about 5p for the chief executive's bonus).  Where else does the money come but from their customers?

I don't feel this is my money well spent.  It certainly hasn't improved their service to domestic customers, who are now expected to interact via robots in their increasingly rare branch network.  The bonuses are inflationary and raise London house prices, making us all worse off.  I feel relieved not to be encouraging that kind of economic corrosion.

Now for my Barclays business account...

Tuesday 3 May 2011

Thoughts on extra-judicial killing

I can't exactly mourn Osama bin Laden, or even really regret his passing.  It may be that this was one of those occasions where extra-judicial killing can be justified.  I only know that, if so, it is one of few occasions.  What disturbs me is the reaction to his death.

The ghoulish crowds on the streets of Manhattan reminded me of the crowds that Charles Dickens described, with revulsion, who struggled to get closer in a public hanging.  That doesn't mean you have sympathy with the criminal.  This is an issue of taste not justice.

But the idea of Barack Obama being in at the death virtually, watching the proceedings through a camera strapped to the head of one of the soldiers, gave me a particular nightmare.  It reminded me of something, and I have now remembered what it was - it was the way that Adolf Hitler demanded to see the deaths of the July 20 plotters who had tried to assassinate him in 1944.

Again, I am not complaining about the outcome, simply the lapse in civilised values.  The sight of civilised people marching through one of the most modern cities of the world, baying in delight at the execution of a human being at home sends a shiver down the spine.  And it should do.