Productivity: a trust issue?

Published on November 13, 2015


John Manzoni, Chief executive of the Civil Service, spoke at Reform’s annual conference which focussed on how to run the state better. He, like most of the other speakers, took us through the increased skills and changes to ways of working that are taking place in the Civil Service. He emphasised the greater movement of people between the public and private sector so that those that run the country learn how those that create the wealth on which the country is run do it, and use those skills to make sure that the wealth is spent wisely.

There is much knowledge to transfer and that seems to be happening. But the one skill that seems to be missing is timeliness. Despite Sherry Coutu’s scale-up report recommending that Government be measured in speed of response, there doesn’t seem to be any action in this area. Given that productivity is the biggest problem facing the country at the moment I’m surprised. When I mentioned it he did promise to look into it.

As he does so, maybe he will notice that it’s not that we don’t work hard, we put plenty of hours in. But the task isn’t completed in a reasonable amount of time because somewhere along the line there is an obstacle that is apparently insurmountable and that makes all the effort put in up to that point unproductive. For example:

  • I can see no reason why my aunt must be left without her painkillers for a month because her carer isn’t allowed to transfer the pills from boxes to blister packs. I understand that there is risk in this, but there is risk in everything that we do and Government (agencies) need to learn to manage it rather than try to eliminate it;
  • Sometimes direct action is necessary. Steve McGuirk, at the same conference, revealed that if he had waited for all the necessary approvals/assurances from all the departments, then the merger of fire, police and ambulance operations in Greater Manchester wouldn’t have happened;
  • Jesse Norman is, inter alia, responsible for improving broadband speeds. I put it to him that in order to get this resolved we need to know the costs of installation (and maybe then offer communities the option of contributing, since they are the beneficiaries). He said that there were commercial, confidential issues that prevented him finding out. But how it’s done does not preclude one from finding out how much it costs. Cost is either determined by competition (which is missing in this area) or should be disclosed to a regulator so that it can be controlled if the situation is monopolistic, as currently is the case here.

Without addressing points such as these, I think that we are unlikely to make much headway towards a more productive society that will also be better for being less stressed. One part of solving this conundrum was offered by another speaker who said that in order to take risk we need to trust the person that we are going to empower. Maybe a National Trusting Day would be a step in the right direction?