.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Collaboration or bust? What is the question?

Collaboration between public bodies is a good thing and can often improve services, but are expectations so high that it will ultimately fail to deliver?

Sitting in the Assembly chamber week in, week out one could be forgiven for thinking that collaboration was the answer to all our financial problems. However, the value of working together and delivering services jointly does not necessarily lie in cost but in quality and the elimination of duplication.

That is illustrated very well by this story on the BBC website. They say that Whitehall departments have been criticised for overspending by £500m on schemes that were actually intended to save money. The National Audit Office found that ministers had failed to offer "clear management" for the setting-up of pooled resource centres aimed at stopping costs being duplicated. It seems that none of the schemes looked at had broken even:

In 2004, Tony Blair's Labour government promised to set up cost-saving centres to save £159m by sharing "back-office" functions such as information technology, personnel and procurement between departments.

The NAO said the initial start-up costs had been put at £900m but, by 2011, had increased to £1.4bn.

And net savings had not been made as a result of the schemes.

The NAO's report blamed a combination of poor co-ordination, over-expensive IT systems, weak or non-existent sanctions and an insistence on highly tailored services saw public-sector costs rise instead.

It added that private-sector firms typically slashed a fifth off their annual spending within five years of using similar methods.

The report found that the Maritime and Coastguard Agency was blocked from joining the Department for Transport scheme because it did not have security clearance for Whitehall IT systems.

Another unit, set up by Research Councils UK, recorded a net cost to the taxpayer so far of £126m - though the NAO said a parallel scheme may help it break even by 2014.

Two of five schemes examined - at the Department for Work and Pensions and the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs - had not kept track of whether or not the changes were saving money.

But another, run by the Ministry of Justice, was saving £33m a year and had broke even ahead of schedule - at which point officials there also stopped monitoring performance.

In total, eight projects have been set up in various departments.

The issue then lies in failed project nmanagement, another feature of the public sector. The lesson must be not to raise our expectations any higher than the competence of those involved and certainly not talk up savings that cannot be delivered, whatever the reason. Are you listening Mr. Sargeant?
I shudder every time I see or hear the term Back Office Functions. Splitting a work process into seperate parts is a sure way to increase costs. Set a series of top down targets each supported by a detailed consultant produced "specification" only makes matters worse.
Design work processes to meet the "customer" need, give the people who do the work responsibilty to continuously improve their service and then you will start to see costs fall as motivated staff increase their productivity and customer satisfaction improves.
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?