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November 13, 2015


Ralph Musgrave



Niall Murray

Do you really mean a register of best practice, which suggests a list of successful changes that can be replicated, or given that we are trying to judge effectiveness between councils, are we really talking about performance statistics?

The former seems a useful idea allowing interested councils to seek out opportunity. The latter smacks of the kind of managerialism and counterproductive changing to hit the measure that you so often complain about?


Niall: Although in order to determine "best practice" wouldn't you need "performance statistics", at least in part, to see what was successful and what wasn't?

Dave Timoney

The idea that all local authorities should adopt "best practice" is a bit like the insistence that all schools should be "above average". The better-run organisations, whether in the public or private sector, look for good practice (absolute standards), not best (the distraction of competition and relative ranking).

They recognise that superior results will often be the product of particular circumstances, so the "best" cannot be universalised (for example, sharing backoffice functions is often logistically easier for urban councils than rural). They are sensitive to context and the diversity of needs: what's best for Oxfordshire is not necessarily what's best for Southwark, which is why there are 433 councils instead of just 1.

They also recognise that good practice is dynamic, not only because of changing external factors but because adoption demotes it from good to standard ("registers" quickly ossify into audit checklists). A lot of "best practice" is simply taking advantage of temporary opportunities in respect of central government and EU grants.

Igor Belanov

I'd add that local politics are still political, at least to some extent, and 'best practice' will be subject to some political constraints.

Mike Killingworth

I agree with almost all of the comments above.

There is one additional point: in private enterprise, the end is the creation of wealth - everything else is just means, and everything that outfit X does to-day can be ditched to-morrow if a better means can be found - remember when shopping involved actually going to a shop?

Whereas what local government does is dictated by central government. And the latter incurs no costs by attacking the former. Indeed, it may be that the whole point of Cameron's letter is to enable him to say to non-Tory local Council leaders "look, I attack Tory Councils too".

Deviation From The Mean

Cameron can't help scoring political points even when sending letters to his own people, which makes me rather suspicious. The idea that Tory councils are following 'best practice' while others are not is plainly absurd. And what is this 'best practice' he speaks of, cut back office staff! Well, that must have taken many great minds to have come up with that criteria!

What is often not mentioned is that New Labour introduced systematic processes for councils to generate savings, this followed from the Gershon review: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gershon_Review

Councils departments had to put forward savings papers that detailed what would be saved, impact on service delivery and whether the saving was a cash or simply an efficiency saving (more output for same input etc). It was a proper. thought out and considered approach to councils adopting best practice when it came to financial practices and delivering 'value for money'.

What the Tories have done is taken an axe and vandalised key public services, instead of value for money they have provided shit but cheap services. Instead of a systematic approach they have pushed an ideological agenda and let the chips fall where they will.

Why have they done this, why have they taken such a negligent and ill thought out route which is as far from best practice as sanity will allow? Because they don't care about the services that people rely on, let me repeat.



The slip side of this is the Prime Minister is right not to micro-manage the details of his cuts to the state.

Andrew Curry

The Hudspeth link (pdf) seems to take me to David Cameron's letter....

Andrew Curry

The other issue with "best practice" - supporting your 'caargo cult' management point - is that all practice is located in a context of organisational knowledge and organisational culture, so it doesn't necessarily translate. The Knowledge Management "joke" about this is that if you studied Elvis' career for best practice you might conclude that best practice to copy "Elvis" (and best praactice is copying) is to eat hamburgers and take pills.

An Alien Visitor

"if you studied Elvis' career for best practice you might conclude that best practice to copy "Elvis" (and best praactice is copying) is to eat hamburgers and take pills."

But this misses an important point about best practice (as well as being a really shit analogy), i.e. outcomes and objectives.

If the objective is eating yourself into an early grave like what Elvis did then yes eating hamburgers and taking pills is indeed best practice.

If the goal is to create music then go learn to play an instrument.


The URL is "best practice-1" does that mean there is going to be a part two Chris ;o


I think that here our blogger is engaging in a similar attitude to that I sometimes detect in that other Oxbridgian, Prof. Simon Wren-Lewis, in his blog, of pretending to be naive if not even obtuse.

It is clear to me that D Camerons's «best practice of Conservative councils from across the country» was entirely defined as «making back-office savings and protecting the frontline».

If trimming what is needlessly bloated and protecting what is desirable is not «best practice», then what else is? :-)

This sounds like empty verbiage, but I reckon that what D Cameron wrote actually has a much more definite meaning, as he was writing in "tory lingo", from one bigger tory to another bunch of lesser tories.

In "tory lingo" «making back-office savings and protecting the frontline» is an idiomatic expression for "outsourcing 90% of the council staff and their work to a contractor for 80% of the current cost of that staff with the same delivery targets that the council currently has".

This would be the realization of N Ridley's goal from the 1980s:

«Northamptonshire is reducing its core staff to 150 people by transferring 4,000 employees to four new service providers, which will be part-owned by the council, paying dividends, but managed like private sector companies.»

«Outsourcing a local authority in its entirety is a long-held Tory municipal fantasy, first articulated by Margaret Thatcher's local government minister Nick Ridley in the late 1980s. The private sector would run schools and social services, collect bins and council tax; councillors would meet once a year to draw up and sign the contracts. This supposedly business-like approach would deliver huge cost savings and efficiencies, went the argument.»

But in traditional Oxbridgian way our blogger may be pretending not to understand what D Cameron meant in order to snipe.


Key thing: look at actions not words (although words are important if they have hidden meaning.)


"our blogger may be pretending not to understand what D Cameron meant in order to snipe."
Yep. I notice that a lot. :)
Agree Chris?

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