Choice-based letting ‘under-funded’

The Housing Quality Network has published a report saying ministers have seriously underestimated the cost of choice-based letting. The DCLG’s choice-based lettings scheme requires housing organisations to buy computers for databases and electronic administration. I explain in the new book how this is, in fact, the scheme’s Achilles heal; the databases create waste and using them as central to the design of the service does not lead to the best service and/or choice for customers. So news that there is a lack of funds can only be good news! Less spend will mean
less waste.

But it does make you wonder… If DCLG thought their ‘solution’ was the right one, why did they not work out the costs of implementation before they coerced people to comply? Had they thought about it they might have come to realise that their ‘solution’ requires spend that does not release efficiencies; it doesn’t pay for itself (in fact it increases costs), so why are we doing it? Answer: because the scheme includes the word ‘choice’, a central idea in the regime’s dogma, and at the time Number 10 was looking for examples of ‘choice’ in order for ministers to be able to talk about them. You couldn’t make it up.

DfT shared services initiative ‘costs rather than saves’

The National Audit Office reports that a shared service initiative in the Department for Transport could end up costing £81m rather than saving £57m as promised. The NAO reports that the project is dogged by changes to cost estimates, inadequate contract management and poor initial implementation.

The ‘problems’ indicate a bigger problem – the whole way they went about sharing services was IT-led, hence the problems with contract management and changes to estimates are bound to follow. Will another shared services failure make ministers stop and think? Doubtful, as ‘shared services’ like ‘choice’ is central to the ideological dogma.

Shared services: more on the wrong way

CIPFA (the association for finance people in local authorities) has just published a report entitled: ‘Shared Services: where now? A guide to Public Sector Implementation’. The report was written by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC). In the introduction, Alan Edwards, Chair of CIPFA’s IT Panel writes: ‘…we feel there is a strong business case for sharing services for both back and front office’

Mr Edwards does not say what the business case is. I imagine it amounts to no more than the assumptions that such designs will lead to ‘economies of scale’ and, as part of that, lower transaction costs. These are plausible but unsound ideas.

Sharing services is something that is not easily undone; mistakes create costs over the long term. We already have more examples of folly than improvement; hence I felt obliged to pen a riposte to the self-serving PWC report.

To download the (free) paper go to: https://www.01handshake01.com/v1_lib.php?key=shared&id=845

Failure demand and benefits processing

I told the minister for e-government transformation that the current services for benefits processing (designed and promulgated by the DWP) are creating massive failure demand not only into benefits but into police (domestic disputes because there is no money), housing services (problems with paying rent), voluntary agencies (who try to sort out the mess created by the DWP), legal services (because landlords take these poor people to court, and rarely do the courts find against them) and I pointed out that one of the largest courts in Europe has about 25% of its capacity consumed by problems that started up-stream in benefits.

While he talks enthusiastically about needing to focus more on ‘avoidable contact’ (the regime’s inappropriate label for failure demand) he is blithely unaware of just how big a problem it is and how it is created by their current flagship ‘factory’ designs.

What did he do? Nothing. The facts don’t fit with the ideology.

Social networking – the new ‘big idea’

Instead, the minister is keenly following the latest idea from the Westminster hot-house for service design: social networking sites as a model for the provision of public services. Who thinks up this nonsense? We know that social networking sites are used to organise parties, but what else are they good for? The minister cites Rightsnet and Mumsnet as sites they can learn from. Rightsnet is a site for the poor souls who have to administer benefits, they use the site to track constant changes to the rules and share ideas about interpretation; and the site is used for moaning about the stupidity of the rules and their political masters. Mumsnet is a site for mums who want to share information and experiences associated with being a mum.

What can these sites teach us about providing public services? If anyone can help me I’d be pleased to learn.

CSCI inspectors caught cheating

The Today programme ran a report about Commission for Social Care Inspection inspectors being ordered by bosses to up-grade their evaluations. Up-grading inspection evaluations makes it look as though the inspection regime is doing its job – things are getting better.

But the truth is compliance with CSCI’s requirements has driven massive waste into the adult care system. I have explained the same to Ivan Lewis, the minister, and David Behan, the man responsible for adult care at the Department of Health, and erstwhile originator of CSCI. What did they do? I think you can guess.

Washing our hands, not our old people

Instead of understanding how the regime has introduced massive waste Lewis and Behan press on with the latest idea: ‘direct payments’. It is a ‘review’ that has all the hallmarks of trying to find evidence in support of policy (policy-based evidence rather than evidence-based policy). The policy is for people who need support to receive ‘direct payments’ (people being given money to sort themselves out – get help with washing and so on). There is no questioning as to whether ‘direct payments’ is the right idea.

It means we wash our hands of the problems; it’s up to the people who need care to sort themselves out. Ministers assume the wads of cash in peoples’ hands will create ‘markets’ – providers will come along with services and take the money. We shall see – or maybe we won’t, for adherence to policy might mean we lose the opportunity to learn anything.

Vanguard will be making a contribution to the ‘review’. As we have already provided plenty of evidence of the waste created by the regulatory regime (see above) it is reasonable to assume our evidence won’t get listened to. But that won’t stop us.

Policy runs ahead of evidence

Despite the claim to be reviewing evidence and learning from ‘pilots’ the regime is already talking about plans to take the £7bn adult care budget away from local authorities and give it to the Department of Work and Pensions to administer.

The plan is that a new DWP agency would distribute the money while local authorities would provide only an information service – where people might go to spend their money. Any bets on what a debacle this will become?

Sorry – that’s confidential

If you ring your social services and say ‘my mum needs help’ they won’t talk to you. They will insist on talking to your mum. Apparently the new regulations on confidentiality are to blame for this absurd behaviour. In the same vein, a reader writes:

‘There has just been a cracker on ‘You and Yours’. A deaf man has a brother who would rescue him when necessary; apparently the deaf brother would take off on his bicycle for weeks or months, doing odd jobs around the country. The brothers lost touch; the able brother spent 10 years looking for his deaf brother. By chance, a contact in Social Services asked him how his brother was. He said he didn’t know and the Social Services contact then told him his brother had Huntington’s disease ‘but we can’t tell you where he is’.

Later he got a call to say his brother was near death and he was told where he was. He found his brother in a home, took him away, and he is now apparently recovering to a degree. It turned out that the deaf man had been writing his brother’s name and the town where he lived but no-one in the home paid any attention to it. A spokesperson from Social Services justified all of this as fitting with the rules on confidentiality. I’d like to ask that pompous (expletive deleted) Lewis how he sleeps at night.’

NHS to sack ‘failing managers’

For some time it has been difficult to fill top jobs in the NHS. The top six targets were considered ‘P45′ issues (the form you get when you are sacked). Who wants a job where you might fail? The repetition of this bullying tactic is to assume, of course that the managers make a difference when the truth is the performance of the NHS is a consequence of the way it is designed and managed and that has become the province of the Department of Health.

Bright kids (they call them SPADS – special advisers) who know nothing take the ministers’ ideas – untested un-researched notions with assumed political appeal – and rain them down upon NHS managers with the threat of sanctions for failure to comply.

Who should we hold accountable?

A lament from the NHS

A reader writes:

‘As an NHS employee of 22 years standing it is a source of bitter frustration that we seem to have bred a generation of senior managers fed on a diet of ‘deliverology’ and incapable of taking the courageous step of challenging the sheer, patent wrong-headedness of so much of the guidance which is delivered from The Centre. ‘World Class Commissioning’ is the latest NHS big idea which has not the slightest connection with improving quality, value or the citizen’s experience of healthcare. However, reputations will be made and careers will flourish on the back of it I have no doubt. Meanwhile, vast amounts of money will sink into the sand.

I am someone who, in spite of everything, is still passionate about the NHS, but have reached the end of my tether with the waste, mismanagement and cowardice which characterises much of the management I see around me.’

A lament from the probation service

A reader writes:

‘I am a frontline Probation Officer. One of the most depressing aspects of organisational change in Probation has been the slavish incorporation of the numbing language of business management and performance management plus target-mania. Procedures are arising with frightening regularity as people skills give way to endless IT/admin tasks (the IT preparation-assessment tool takes hours and is given totemic status!). Meanwhile experienced Probation Officers are culled. While managers say give the clients 10 minutes, to complete your IT-forms takes hours.’

Just like adult care and policing, the design takes people away from their proper work and into activities that feed the regime, not the purpose of the service.

Cops ‘rebel’ on target culture

The media are representing cops as rebelling against the target culture. In response to the Flanagan report four forces are allowing their officers to use their discretion. This means – we hope – less criminalising of people. The Home Office is putting it about that this is all their idea and these four ‘pilots’ will be studied. What is actually happening on the ground is that cops who decide not to prosecute kids having a playground fight will instead follow a new procedure, documenting how they used their discretion.

What this fails to do is address the question: what measures would be useful in understanding and improving policing? This new ‘initiative’ with pilots that are ‘destined to succeed’ will teach us nothing of value. It amounts to doing less of the wrong thing. It is not even close to doing the right thing.

Private-sector call centre fraud

BT has made a £1.75million payout to the Ministry of Defence for fraud in its call centre. BT was cheating over six years, during which time its staff were making more than a million false calls to the company’s contact centre to ensure it met its targets. The employees called themselves so that more calls were recorded as being answered on time.

Such problems start with the way contracts are written. The focus on ‘picking up calls’ and ‘handling calls in x minutes’ drives managements’ ingenuity to optimise their position. These are the very same features being specified by the regime in their many out-sourced public-sector deals.

To take just one example: voluntary agencies now have to contract to deliver against these kinds of targets. The consequences are always a decline in service quality (because the contract creates a de-facto purpose – meet the targets) and a failure to improve. In fact it is in the provider’s interest not to improve. The shocking distortions found in the worst of the private sector now occur with regularity in the public sector.

Systems Thinking in Telcomms

Barry Wrighton – a Vanguard expert – has penned an article (‘Designing a Customer Driven System’) for the Journal of Telecommunications Management (July 2008). In this paper Barry takes a ‘Systems Thinkers’ perspective on the problems facing the Telecoms industry and describes how Telco management has been let down by plausible but flawed methods that lead them to consistently do ‘the wrong thing righter’.

It is a subscription journal to be found at: http://www.henrystewart.com/jtm/