That is a simplified version of the government’s attempt to take back
power from doctors. It has parallels with local government. How do you
get the balance right between the professionals, the managers and the
politicians. Should the professionals run the service because they
know best or should managers because resources are scarce and budgets
finite or politicians/ councillors because they know what the voters want?
I was a manager during the,”let managers management” era.
Managers won that argument in Local Authorities and then lost it.
The first time the rational was that services were being run for
the convenience of staff rather than the needs of service users. This
wasn’t just about an imbalance in power with the Trade Unions it was
concern that decisions were professionally led rather than managerial
driven. The result organisations were practice led not finance driven.
It seems strange now but in those days only senior managers felt
responsible for the budget. Managerialism won that argument.
In more recent times the power has shifted away from managers to
politicians/councillors. Encouraged by central government council
leaders have been more assertive. Austerity has emboldened council
leaders to take unpopular decisions in the knowledge that voters
accepted that the same actions would most likely be taken whatever the
colour of the council. It was largely members behind the drive to
outsource services. Yet whilst LAs take the criticism for cutting
local services it is the Government who forces their hand.
Whilst power was shifting from Trade Unions to managers and from
managers to members, governments of every description were increasing
their centralisation of power. When they gave much needed money it
came ,”ring fenced” meaning it could only be spent on a very specific
service whether that be schools or filling pot holes. The strategy was
clear devolve responsibility not power. Let LA’s take the blame for
unpopular local decisions not central government.
Does regional government buck the trend or is this just another
example of responsibility with out power? The optimists think it is a
gift that it would be foolish to reject but the Trojan horse was a gift.
Blair McPherson former Director ,author and blogger www.blairmcpherson.co.uk