Efficiency

For many years now governments have been calling for improved efficiency and productivity in our public services. It is a truism that there is always room to cut cost but arbitrary reductions in budgets are often blunt weapons which reduce the service rather than make it more efficient. Many government budgets are effectively reduced every year over many years and these cuts actually produce inefficiencies and not savings overall. While reducing costs in one area these cost cutting measures may result in increased expenditure elsewhere. It is better to look to reduce the cost of any public service by reducing the need for it. In other words don’t look inside a  service for reductions in cost, look outside at the environment in which the service operates. I have recently come across the fact that many Looked After children, children placed in care by local authorities, end up in young offenders institutions after leaving care at a predefined age. Better to spend a marginal extra amount on extending their time in care than pay the far higher costs of secure accommodation.
Western societies have grown huge,  wide spreading and intricate support organisations. It is part of civilised society. These agencies cover every aspect of life literally from cradle to grave. They include education, social care, health service, the police service, the post, local authority services and many others. They have materialised over the last two centuries. An eighteenth century citizen was more or less dependent on his own and his families resources. Only the church gave any kind of external support to society.  Time travelled from 1713 to 2013, a person might well find our social structures just as baffling as our ability to fly in heavier than air cylinders of shiny metal.
This multitude of services has spawned a complexity in society which inhibits rather than encourages efficiency. Each service works in its own sphere often with little or no collaboration with related services. Managers of services have fought to protect their own territories and especially associated budgets from erosion by rival services. Social care services and health services have until recently formed barriers to protect their own turf rather than seek to collaborate. That is in spite of clear overlaps which if jointly managed would make services more efficient  and save considerable expenditure. Both health and social care services talk about early intervention without any realistic ways of achieving it and yet the education services might well be able to make some early interventions a reality. Many of the skills which an eighteenth century person would have learnt at home are now not taught at all with subsequent consequences for people reaching adulthood. Education is often the service most likely to notice early warning signs of dysfunctional families but with only haphazard ways of alerting other services competent to make an early and less costly difference. It is only in very recent times that the need for joined up social support has become a priority and we have a long way to go for it to be a smoothly working process.
Very few politicians or bureaucrats would appear to have grasped the idea that rather than cut budgets in an arbitrary fashion they should concentrate on cost reductions achievable by creating a system of collaborative working across all government financed services.

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