Magazine article Public Finance

Putting the Public Straight

Magazine article Public Finance

Putting the Public Straight

Article excerpt

Nothing to do with me, squire. That's the attitude of most public sector employees to the implosion of the Brown government. Politics, they seem to say, is a nasty, dirty business. But just like a maiden aunt and procreation, they seem to forget that it takes sex - or in this case, politics - to produce the goods.

Brown's problems don't spring just from his indecisiveness and ideological confusion. They are also about public service delivery, for which chief executives, finance officers and the rest must take a large share of responsibility.

Labour politicians are chastened but not enough public managers are. If their response is that public services have improved then their principal failure is communication. A theme at the CIPFA annual conference is moving from competence to excellence.

So how do we explain the sour public mood when we have in our hands a sheaf of positive assessments handed down by the regulators, including attestations of excellence?

Public services have got better and, accepting all the qualifications and criticisms of Gershon, are more efficient too. Why doesn't that register with the public? If citizens said to pollsters 'we don't like that Gordon Brown but we have to credit the council/government with improvements', that would be reasonable. Instead, the condemnation is blanket. Public service managers have failed, it seems, to convince the public of anything much, let alone improvement.

In last week's Public Finance, Tony Travers of the London School of Economics argued that Labour had lost the white working class because it had concentrated on minorities and Guardian readers (life of Gordon', May 30). But what about school and health spending, extra police numbers and so on?

The bulk of Labour's boost to social spending has, necessarily, been targeted at that white working class - and that's before we consider tax credits, family support and employee rights. The unpalatable fact is that the spending is unappreciated. And some of the responsibility for that must lie with public service professionals.

How many seminars have been convened in recent years to discuss 'channel management' or better reporting of what public bodies do? A gulf in public understanding remains. How little, it turns out, the public has absorbed by way of understanding or appreciation.

Some might say the public has quite enough information, thank you, and is now making up its mind that the money absorbed by the public sector has been misapplied and delivered insufficient value. …

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