‘We don’t do that’

The CQI published a report on evidence of the contribution made by quality management to UK plc. Their leader, Simon Feary, went to talk about it with top civil servants at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. He was told unequivocally that government does not see its role as telling business or industry what to do. When I read this, my jaw dropped.Leaving aside the massive amount of instruction, coercion, guidance, incentives and so on rained down on the public sector, I can’t think of any industry sector where Whitehall’s interference is not palpable; the primary vehicle being regulation.In a couple of weeks I’m joining a discussion with EU officials on regulation. The good news is every country in the EU recognises that we have over-done regulation. My pitch will be concerned with the failure of regulation to be based on, or to facilitate, knowledge.

Ideology rather than knowledge pervades government’s ‘telling’ people what to do in every sector. The honest answer to Mr Feary’s request for the government to do something would have been: ‘no, we don’t do useful things; government is only concerned with ideologically-inspired interference.’

Harsh, but representative of what happens.

Oh yes you do!

I noted in a previous newsletter how the All Party Parliamentary Group on outsourcing and shared services is made up of IT companies, the usual private-sector suspects with a pecuniary interest in out-sourcing and members of parliament. There is not one member who expresses doubts; a completely biased group!

The Foreword of their recent report admits that public-sector outsourcing contracts have failed to be delivered on time and don’t achieve the promised savings – correct! But it then goes on to say that the report’s guiding principle is that outsourcing has an important role to play in the government’s plan for deficit reduction and can make the vital savings needed. Never mind the evidence, let’s continue with our prejudices.

From there the report amounts to a list of things ministers will ensure public-sector leaders comply with in order to be a more productive feeding ground for the private-sector parasites.

You can read it for yourself:

Labelling people as ‘blockers’

David Cameron, our prime minister, complains about what he labels as ‘conservatism’ from the Public Accounts Committee and National Audit Office when these bodies express concerns over the evidence of major government-inspired change programmes. He says they need to change their culture in favour of more risk and openness. He means he’d like them to be more compliant. It reminds me of what I have been told by the various ‘think-tanks’ I have spoken at over recent years; they tell me ministers only want to know how to achieve their ambitions, they won’t listen to people who think their ambitions are flawed.

I’d like Dave and co to be more interested in evidence and knowledge. Knowledge would lead to greater predictability. All we can predict at the moment is that Dave and co’s ideological initiatives will drive costs up and worsen morale.

See the news here:

Incontinent policy-making

I have complained for years about government’s approach to policy: They come up with an idea then count how many people do as they are told; this then becomes ‘evidence’ (‘policy-based-evidence’ as John Kay observed).

The man who described me as having ‘incontinent judgement’, David Walker, ex communications chief for the Audit Commission (not dead yet) once again came to the defence of the dying monster, using this flawed logic. Giving evidence to a House of Commons committee looking into the impending demise of his former employer, he argued that the Audit Commission drove improvement, confusing their assessments of ‘good’ with the fact of their coercion on local authorities to comply with their views of good. He persists in ignoring the evidence of failure associated with compliance and, moreover, the evidence of outstanding innovation only achieved by ignoring everything Whitehall, including the Audit Commission, the controlling arm of the state, holds as good.

Mr Walker was joined by Robert Black, ex top man for Scotland’s inspection empire, who, by the way, called me a snake-oil salesman the day first time we met. They just don’t ‘get’ how their very architecture undermines their purpose.

Mr Walker is what we used to call a ‘theory x’ man, he thinks improvement will only happen in our councils if Whitehall does some ‘chivvying’ and he cites delays around the Local Government Association’s ‘best practice’ project as indicative of ‘them’ needing a push. The LGA’s initiative is no more than a copy of other initiatives (including those of the Audit Commission) that published ‘best practice’ assuming that will lead to improvement. That’s incontinent thinking.

I’m a theory y man. I want Whitehall to transfer real responsibility for improvement to those who deliver the services; it is an essential prerequisite for innovation.

Read more here:

Chile portentous for UK education?

I’ve just been in Chile, talking about policy and practice in public-sector improvement. Before I went, I read that students were protesting in favour of free education. What I learned when I got there is its much worse. Students feel ripped off by private-sector providers, who market courses to them with promises of benefit; take on students who will drop out because they don’t have the basics and students find themselves graduating with pretty worthless qualifications and huge debts. Only the private-sector providers win.

Chile has a left-wing government but right-wing policies. You may recall the country was the subject of the ‘Chicago experiment’: free-market economics. Chile leads the world in the privatisation of education and healthcare.

Chileans complain about the poor quality of education at all levels. A Chilean academic wrote a column for a leading newspaper that caused a massive stir, students came to him – and to cut a long story short, a movement was born. Representatives went to speak to ministers. Politicians sympathised with and agreed with their arguments, but told them there was nothing they, the politicians, could do!

You, like I, might think that’s what politicians are for, doing something about things that matter to people. The new movement was asked to keep making a noise as this was the only way politicians could create leverage on the vested interests.

This could be what’s to come with education here in the UK. Simon Caulkin sent me this link to a blog about the privatisation of IT services in schools; it ought to worry us all:

By the way, if you don’t follow Simon Caulkin’s work, you should: http://www.simoncaulkin.com

Perfect Flow: a true innovation

Perfect Flow is a new company, set up out of the work we pioneered on housing repairs in local authorities. These people took the Vanguard approach to logistics to another level – the secret of good logistics being to buy materials at the rate of consumption; tell that to the ‘procurement professionals’ who (wrongly) think it’s smart to club together and buy at lower unit costs.

They have won an award. Sadly it is too late to add your vote for them to win the big prize, but you can see their award-winning entry here:


Interview with a blogger

I was interviewed by a blogger from an interim management company. You can read it here:

A blog in Spanish

Following my visit to Chile an academic writes:
Forthcoming Vanguard events

November 8th, Buckingham, Housing Allocations:

Whitehall has driven the adoption of Choice-Based-Lettings (because it has the word ‘choice’ in the title). Studying allocations reveals how adherence to Whitehall policy drives costs and misery into the allocations system; but it also reveals how to design allocations to achieve outstanding service, much lower costs and real choice to boot.
To book: pr@vanguardconsult.co.uk

November 22nd, Buckingham, Process Mapping and Analysis:

Our popular introduction to studying systems. To book: office@vanguardconsult.co.uk

November 29th, Buckingham, It’s a Method, not a Model!

A Vanguard Network day (network members only) designed to explore how copying models fails and following method succeeds.
To book and to find out more about the Vanguard Network: pr@vanguardconsult.co.uk

December 3rd, Cardiff, 2nd annual knowledge network, Wales.

Exclusively for graduates of the Fundamentals Action-Learning programmes, practitioners of the Vanguard Method, Network members and do-it-yourself practitioners.
To book: pr@vanguardconsult.co.uk

Forthcoming action-learning programmes on the Vanguard Method:

Cardiff: February 19th, 26th, March 5th and 12th. Birmingham: February 21st, 28th, March 7th and 14th. Note that delegates will be expected to apply what is taught between sessions.
To book: pr@vanguardconsult.co.uk

Vanguard in health

Regular readers may be wondering about whether we are withdrawing from health (newsletters passim). We have decided to stay with it for the time being – the big problem being the ‘system conditions’ rained down on health services that drive in cost and other forms of sub-optimisation. We will be running an event on our work in health next spring. To stay in touch with us on health please follow our health blog: