Thursday 24 September 2009
Having been criticised previously for writing and expressing my views widely on the on-going investigation by the Office of Fair Trading into Construction Sector Cartels I must admit to a degree of smugness when news broke of the 103 companies having £129m of fines imposed on them having been found guilty of cover pricing.
It was humorous watching and listening to well paid industry representatives (some of whom had sent me threatening letters in the past) trying to justify why the public purse had been robbed of millions of pounds. It was everyone else's fault apparently, if the public sector procurers leave their window open can they really blame a passing stranger who climbs in and helps themselves. Alternatively public servants should really be sharper at spotting people exchanging envelopes in underground car parks hundreds of miles away or in golf club locker rooms.
I honestly hope that the Construction Sector has learned its lessons from this and we move on to a new era where every penny of the public purse is used to build badly needed public sector infrastructure. Now more than ever it is vital that we achieve as much public value for our buck as possible. Taxpayers don't deserve anything less.
Friday 11 September 2009
Just arrived back from our annual seminar and awards at Cardiff and it was a great success.
The event opened with a bit of scene setting from the Welsh Local Government Minister, Dr Brian Gibbons and Emeritus Professor of Local Governance at LSE, George Jones. This could have been a 'we're all doomed session', however the quality of contributions by both speakers enabled delegates to keep the financial pressures faced in perspective.
Another day one highlight was World Champion Hurdler Colin Jackson who spoke about overcoming challenges to ultimately become the best in the world at his sport.
Our annual general meeting went smoothly with delegates entertained by former British Lion great, Phil Bennett.
A major debate took place around future models of service delivery with contributions from Professor John Tizard, Brian Devlin of AMEY PLC, Nic Cox of Solutions SK, Kath Moore of Newcastle City Council, Byron Davies Chief Executive of Cardiff City Council and myself. With so many speakers and overruns it was difficult to get beyond views expressed into real debate but it was a worthwhile exercise.
Onto APSE's annual service awards in the evening with 700 people present and it all went well despite one or two minor hiccups. We had the usual mixture of elated winners, sporting runners up and bad losers - who appear unable to accept that an independent panel of judges decided someone else was better.
Friday 04 September 2009
The recent debate around the role of the Audit Commission, brought into sharp focus by John Seddon’s call to scrap it, has rather overshadowed the more important discussion around how best to improve service delivery. Is this best achieved under central direction? Or by creating a culture locally where members and officers work together to ensure they continuously improve local services by building upwards from citizens’ needs?
First up, I would like to say that the Comprehensive Performance Assessment served a purpose by proving to central government that local government could deliver. However, my own view has always been that the targets it set were more focused on where the money was spent; rather than aligned to the services the public cares about most.
With regard to the role of the Audit Commission itself, the accountability and transparency an independent auditing body brings to local government is vital. But any World class inspection service, by definition, should work itself out of a job - or at least to an optimum minimum level. It should certainly not continually expand by virtue of ‘mission creep.’
Getting back to the real debate around systems thinking and value management, this is something that has been around for a long time. The impact
of the recession and the need for efficiency has generated a real interest in redesigning services to eradicate waste, reduce steps in the supply chain and most importantly make them more user-friendly. I have come across numerous authorities that are investing heavily in this approach - and it’s not just the usual ‘conference luvvies’ fixating on the latest passing fad.
Many of those authorities whose last major structural overhaul was removing the unnecessary client / contractor splits created by CCT to achieve integrated service delivery are now assessing how to reduce the steps in the supply chain still further. Some are using commissioning as an opportunity to do this. Thankfully most have learnt the lessons of history and are not using it to build bureaucracy and waste into the system by recreating procurement functions divorced from actual delivery.
World class services are delivered by organisations that promote a culture of everyone working together for a common purpose. Now, more than ever, the scarce financial resources at local authorities’ disposal must be spent on the bit that actually matters most to the punters. This means highly visible service delivery, clearly targeted at local needs. And the Audit Commission must be a World class inspection body helping make sure they achieve that.