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May 29, 2015

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Jim

"What Labour should do, then, is ask everyone connected to the public services as client or worker: what concrete steps can we take to improve this Job Centre, this hospital, this school? Many of the suggestions will - I'd hope - be utterly mundane and apparently trivial: they'll consist in slight tweaks to how wards are cleaned, minor changes to procurement or teaching. And they'll vary from place to place. But as Sir Dave said, if you add together thousands of tiny improvements, you get a big improvement. "

Lets guess whose suggestions would get the greatest chance of being implemented. Those of the client/customer, which might involve the workers in doing more work, or making life less simple for them, or those of the workers whose suggestions would tend to make life easier for the worker, not the patient? Not a hard guess to be honest.

The last thing you want is the workers deciding how to 'improve' the level of service, we can see how that works quite nicely already in the NHS, it being a text book case of producer capture.

We have a system to implementing incremental improvements to a service or process - its called customer feedback, or in other terms, a marketplace. State sector services should all be exposed to consumer choice.

nickj

good idea. contrary to everything labour have practised for the last 20 years at least.

this leopard isn't going to change its spots.

Rich

What Labour should do is stop this self-serving anal gazing, and start to tackle the many, terrible proposed bills in the Queen's speech.

Susan Boyle Sex Tape

"What Labour should do, then, is ask everyone connected to the public services as client or worker: what concrete steps can we take to improve this Job Centre, this hospital, this school? Many of the suggestions will - I'd hope - be utterly mundane and apparently trivial: they'll consist in slight tweaks to how wards are cleaned, minor changes to procurement or teaching. And they'll vary from place to place. But as Sir Dave said, if you add together thousands of tiny improvements, you get a big improvement."

Why Labour? Fuck Labour, they lost the election. The Tories should do this as they're the ones in office (yes they should have done it long ago but there's no time like the present).

Igor Belanov

I would have thought that one of the problems in public services is that there is no consensus on what constitutes an 'improvement' and even when you can agree on what an improvement looks like, how that can be implemented. As a worker I can think of certain ways that improvements can be made at the hospital where I work, and occasionally we're given the opportunity to air our views. We are then likely to be told that it costs too much, or it impacts on other departments in an adverse way, or it contravenes government policy, or simply that managers or fellow workers do not agree with the suggestion. Sometimes issues are raised and dealt with, where the problem occurs to many people and is easily dealt with.

Decentralisation is also something of a red herring, if this simply involves services competing with each other or still bound by directives from above and given the responsibility for but not the power to deal with problems.

The main issue with public services is to make them responsive to wider public political action, and this is not likely to be welcomed by politicians, bureaucrats or business.

Marko

Extend this argument and you might be able explain the widespread and long-running declines in private sector productivity across advanced economies.

"....how he made British cyclists into world-beaters by aggregating marginal gains.

This only worked because all cyclists on the team were able to benefit from the efficiency gains that resulted from the contributions from other individuals. If only the very best cyclist was privy to that information , there would be no incentive for others to try to improve the team.

When workers repeatedly discover that any effort to improve their marginal productivity only benefits those at the top , Brailsfordian improvement dies a slow but certain death.

Richard

Can't you see that this has been thought of already? 200 years ago. It's Adam Smiths invisible hand. Or put in other words: apply a market framework, with real incentives, and there's no end to what can be achieved. Even in the public sector...

Keith

Marko has spotted the main problem with your argument chris. Your ideas here and elsewhere have an annoying naive tendency about them.

Your argument assumes an identity of interest that does not exist and cannot exist in a Capitalist society based on profit and exploitation.

A rational proposal by benefit claimants to improve the welfare state would be to abolish sanctions, the benefit cap and the work capability assessments and the private contractors who administer WCA. The cap and sanctions merely increase poverty and the WCA ignores the social model of disability. But the rational policy that benefits humanity is not going to be taken up when the state ( and Labour party) are immersed in a cut throat model of competition and profit.

Richard and Jim are wrong as you cannot apply a real market to public goods. All the tinkering and attempts to apply a fake market model to services which have the characteristics of public goods do not work. Despite the valiant attempts of various governments to apply a model that cannot apply to this area. If you create a situation where people are on the same side and cooperation yields general improvement then that would be good and raise efficiency. But we do not live in such a society but a class divided society where helping to improve the state is a zero sum activity for most people both "clients" and the workers who provide the service. Unless you change the power relations cooperation will not be forthcoming. You need a revolution to get those incremental steps to happen.

D

This works when you can make and act on tweaks much more rapidly than the circumstances change. But while larger forces are making structural changes that close, move, or thoroughly reconfigure the service, then tweaks to that service will disappear, gains will be lost - and that is a big demotivator. Nobody wants to spend half an hour tuning their bicycle brakes if they know that, whatever they do, they'll be riding a penny farthing tomorrow.

This sort of change could be effective if coupled with a credible promise of stability, but given the temptations for politicians to meddle, the drift towards commissioning public services in N-year contacts, and the fashion in business to be responsive to change (i.e. tolerant of wild swings in business priorities as animal spirits in the boardroom lurch about), plus the genuinely necessary churn that goes on, that credibility is hard to come by.

chris

@ Marko - the qn is: how do we change the fact that productivity gains benefit the rich? My point is that if workers are encouraged to say how their job can be done better, they will come to question the legitimacy of bosses. As I say, this is a stepping stone policy - a small step to bigger change. And it's something the Labour party can do even though it does not hold office.
@ Richard - I'm sympathetic to the use of markets in public services. But markets need an institutional framework to stop (eg) cronyism and the misuse of asymmetric info. The introduction of markets thus needs care, not ideological sloganizing.

Stephen

"They might ask: if we're coming up with all these ideas for improving public services, why is some guy getting a six-figure salary for sitting in an office?"

That's the reason, of course, why your plan is rarely implemented. It's the guy on the six-figure salary who has to set it up, and he understands his own interests.

Bill Posters

What you have described here is basically the Kaizen Japanese continuous improvement management philosophy. The Toyota production system e.t.c.

This works well when there is some social cohesion. For example in a Jobs for life culture, still prevalent in Japan's big corps if you find a way to do your Job in less time there will be other stuff for you to do. If you make an improvement in the UK the management may well say thank you and goodbye. Even in the NHS the market attitude is so pervasive that it would be very difficult to get an effective Kaizen culture going.

You have to couple Kaizen with better social cohesion / social capital efforts, worker control, industrial democracy e.t.c

You can apply Kaizen in a small way individually as I have done in my one man outdoor display advertising business. Carefully orgainising the tools in the van, cards with written instructions for different jobs, checklists e.t.c. It's a bit OCD but effective.

Igor Belanov

When talking about the public sector it is important not to confuse 'improvements' with 'productivity'. I can think of numerous ways that productivity can be improved but the vast majority would not improve care or the quality of service, let alone the motivation of staff!

Marko

Chris ,

Workers , in the US at least , are essentially powerless to effect change , absent some kind of coordinated , grass-roots movement. A revolution would be my preference.

Since that's not likely any time soon , I'd suggest that individual workers print out this article , stick it in the suggestion box , and pray :

"Marlin Steel’s smart matrix for job and wage growth"

http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/marlin-steels-smart-matrix-for-job-and-wage-growth/2014/12/12/977cd030-8151-11e4-81fd-8c4814dfa9d7_story.html

"....We don’t look at employees as a variable cost,” Greenblatt says. “For us, they are a fixed cost. And what that means is that we train the heck out of them. We incentivize them. We coddle them because we know they’re going to be with us for 30 years. They do well, we do well; we do well, they do well. That’s the deal.”

Marko

Since some bosses lack reading comprehension skills , their workers might want to send them the link to this 3-min video as an alternative to the article suggested above :

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=meiU6TxysCg

theOnlySanePersonOnPlanetEarth

But cycling is a sport where 2 groomers can literally turn up to a school with nothing much more than a tape measure and point and say, within a few years we will make this person a world class cyclist.

But life is more like football, if 2 men had turned up to that school and seen Lionel Messi they would have marked him up for medical experiments rather than a sporting career.

The Brailsford route takes you directly to Nazism.

djb

"And it should do so in combination with Hayek's insight that knowledge of where these gains are to found lies not in any contral body but rather is fragmentary and dispersed across all individuals."

please, as if Keynes wouldn't know this

but then the Austrians use obvious statements like this to disprove that we can have a lack of aggregate demand and that the government can do something about it

djb

but they disprove nothing

pablopatito

Chris, haven't you partly described the pre-Clegg LibDems? When they were briefly the party that were positioned to the left of New Labour?

Now that Labour are moving further to the right, isn't it time the LibDems move to the left and become a party that Marxists and Left Wing Libertarians can get involved with? Screw Labour.

Philip Walker

"Richard and Jim are wrong as you cannot apply a real market to public goods. All the tinkering and attempts to apply a fake market model to services which have the characteristics of public goods do not work."

This is certainly true. I hope, though, that you understand well the distinction between "public goods" and "public services"! In this debate, too many people on the anti-market side either are ignorant or else choose to ignore the distinction. Healthcare and education, for example, are excludable (though non-rivalrous).

Philip Walker

Sorry, I think I got that wrong too. Healthcare and education are rivalrous as well as excludable, if by education I mean schools, colleges and universities.

Health and education, as qualities of a person, are of course non-rivalrous and non-excludable. But the key point is that the mechanisms we use to deliver those things are necessarily rivalrous and excludable: if I'm seeing my GP at 11am, you can't be seeing him as well, and the receptionist will exclude you from the room to prevent an intrusion on my privacy.

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