Labour underestimated, partly through inexperience, the time it takes to actually get things done in any big organisation, particularly very big ones in the public sector. So far as public services go the new Labour slogan ‘The work goes on’, really ought to read ‘The work begins’.
It’s the gap in the middle – the delivery machine – which matters. The money is there, detailed management at ground level is there, but the translation of the money into something these managers can deliver to the public is not.
It’s been a failure of governments for a long time; good ideas, not properly thought through. Remember unit fines and dangerous dogs? They were down to the Tories and perhaps they didn’t matter that much. But schools and hospitals and the police do matter and those are now down to Labour.
It isn’t just a matter of getting better people in, though if they’re the right people and were properly supported that might help. Nor is it a matter of sending individuals on training courses, though that doesn’t do any harm either. Nor is it simply a question of more involvement of the private sector. It’s a matter of structure, and where the public services are concerned this means the structure that pulls together Whitehall and its departments and agencies, in a way which ensures delivery of what ministers want and that leaves the operating units maximum autonomy.
What is needed is a comprehensive view of delivery. Policy-making and delivery are different things requiring different skills. The changes Tony Blair has recently made are alright as far as they go, but they don’t go far enough. Let us hope they’re only interim measures, and that some real hard thinking is going on about getting better delivery.
- Sir Peter Kemp FCA is a former senior civil servant
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