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Leaders lack confidence in the changes they've been asked to make

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10 September, 2011

Transforming the public sector on the scale the government requires was always going to be difficult. A recent Ipsos MORI survey of public sector leaders reveals just how difficult as three quarters believe the changes will not improve services.

The government should be worried if the majority of those responsible for driving through changes don’t share their belief that this will result in better services. Yet rather perversely these same public sector leaders think the government plans are the right thing to do!

The explanation for this contradiction is that public sector leaders have taken on board that their number one task is to make cuts to budgets and deliver savings. Where they disagree with the government is that it is possible to do more with less. In fact many see efficiency initiatives not as delivering the same with less but delivering less with less. In other words reduced budgets even if spent in a different way will result in fewer people receiving a service and or a reduction in the quality of service.

Seven out of ten leaders polled felt that the government was forcing the pace of change too quickly by making budget cuts too fast. A view they believe is shared by the majority of the general public judging by the lobbying of local politicians and the reaction of local media.

Whilst the government still seems to think the Big Society will fill the gaps the majority of public sector leaders think it won’t. Almost half those polled thought it would make no difference locally.

Is it any wonder that staff, service users and the general public have picked up on this scepticism and responded with accusations that changes are not about improving services but saving money!

The reality is confirmed by the nature of senior managers’ ”conversations” with staff and service users. Chief executives talk to staff of standing on a burning platform to illustrate the need for fast and dramatic action. Senior managers “consult” with service user groups not over whether libraries, museums, swimming pools and sports centres will close but which ones. The debate in youth services is not about how best to spend the budget to better engage with disaffected young people but how much can we get away with cutting the budget by?

The talk of increased choice and control by users of social care has been replaced by how much can be saved if help and support is restricted only to those older people in greatest need.

In the NHS managers now openly admit waiting lists are getting longer. No one is pretending this is improving services. No one, that is, except the government.

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