In which I hymn praise on bureaucrats …

That’s right. Bureaucrats.

I’ve been struck over the last couple of days by an oft-repeated phrase. I’ve heard it so often I think it must be part of the media training that our political classes get these days. The phrase is formulated in a variety of ways but essentially boils down to something like this,

“Of course we should be spending the money we have at the front line and not on faceless bureaucrats … ‘

But who do they mean?

Changes to the NHS are all over the news just now. I heard an MP from the coalition in near ecstasy over the abolition of Labour’s ‘bureaucratic’ PCTs. Layers of management, unnecessary management at that, stripped away. Hooray! Except … well, how about the Public Health work of PCTs? Oh, that’s important. Better keep that so let’s shift it over to local government.

Oh, then there’s the information gathering and analysis you need to understand the health and healthcare needs of the residents served by GPs. Now that’s important too. Better keep that. Why not let those folks be employed by private sector organisations?

Prescribing advice? Better keep that somewhere. Specialist commissioning for rare conditions? Oh, let’s keep that. Referral management? Yes, we’ll keep that too.

So all those faceless bureaucrats can go apart from those involved in: public health; health data gathering and analysis; prescribing advice; commissioning support; and, referral management. Job done.

Then there’s all the jobsworths in local government. They can go. Afterall when did a bureaucrat ever have anything to do with a road repair? Or building schools? Or helping our elderly relatives live independently? Or stopping anti-social behaviour? Or gritting roads?

You’ll catch my drift of course.

Napoleon said an army marches on its stomach. Public services march, if they do at all, because of the quiet diligence of people doing the boring stuff of management and administration. I don’t think many politicians of whatever party get that truth. Tony Blair certainly didn’t and it doesn’t look like either of his successors do either.

Mr Blair famously complained about the scars on his back from trying to reform public services. But I think our political classes have drawn the wrong conclusion. They do so because while they are expert in launching change they are ignorant, to are large extent, about how change gets implemented.

My experience tells me that very few change programmes are successful simply because someone gets parachuted in, shouts ‘follow me’ and everyone takes off in the same direction. Similarly, standing behind your hapless troops with your own ‘heavies’ prodding the lumpen staff towards the guns at bayonet point doesn’t work well either.

Good administration, the effective running of well-designed systems to keep ‘frontline’ staff in place doing the work they do doesn’t just happen. But the staff work that’s needed is dull and full of detail. It doesn’t get done by news release or soundbite. Or by the photogenic stars of public service with whom politicians always like to be pictured.

Of course I am realistic about my campaign for good administration. Faceless bureaucrats are too easy a target to pass up.

If you are old enough for all the current public debate to feel a bit like the 1980s all over again you might enjoy the following piece of nostalgia … tempus non mutanda.

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About redundantpublicservant

A redundant UK public servant looking for work, sharing his experiences and providing a space for others to do the same.
This entry was posted in 2011, bureaucrats, Coalition, Redundancy, war on the deficit and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to In which I hymn praise on bureaucrats …

  1. Mean Mr Mustard says:

    “My experience tells me that very few change programmes are successful simply because someone gets parachuted in, shouts ‘follow me’ and everyone takes off in the same direction. Similarly, standing behind your hapless troops with your own ‘heavies’ prodding the lumpen staff towards the guns at bayonet point doesn’t work well either”.

    My second favourite blogger, John Michael Greer http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/(who spotted the difference between problems and predicaments) offers a possible solution on his blog this week.

    “That’s also the secret of herding cats. I long ago lost track of the number of times I’ve heard people in one or another corner of the activist scene throw up their hands in despair and describe the task of organizing people to seek some form of change or other as being like trying to herd cats. In point of fact, herding cats is one of the easiest things in the world. All you have to do is go to the place you want the cats to go, carrying with you a #10 can of tuna and an electric can opener. The moment the cats hear the whirr of the can opener and smell the fragrance of the tuna, they’ll come at a run, and you’ll have your herd exactly where you want them. Now of course that strategy assumes two things. It assumes that you’re willing to go to the place you want the cats to go, and it also assumes that you have something to offer them when they get there”.

  2. Mean Mr Mustard says:

    Edit for JMG’s blog hyperlink –
    http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/

  3. That was the 1980’s right, it wasn’t a new one for today?

  4. Betty M says:

    Bit like all the torched quangos whose functions have come back to central govt where us faceless beureaucrats will need to deal with them.

    I hadn’t seen that clip the first time round even though I cant claim I was too young at the time. Depressingly funny.

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