Now if it was a light bulb in your house, and money was a bit tight, well, you’d compare prices and opt for the cheapest option. Or you might weigh up the costs versus the quality, and being the co-conscious person you are, look at the longer term impact, and opt for the energy efficiency one that is going to save you money in the long term, even if it does cost a wee bit more now.
But in the public sector, you’d need someone from the great and the good to set up a wee committee to look at how to change the light bulb. They’d visit your house and many others and ask you questions about the light bulbs you and your neighbours currently use. The committee would have lots of meetings and look at research before making a conclusion on how the light bulb should be changed.
They would pass a report to the politicians who would promptly pass it to their civil servants and ask them to work out what to do with it. They might have to set up a wee committee too to help them think about that. Some months later, another report would be produced and the politicians would make a speech committing to changing the light bulb but regretting that there was no new money for doing so – thanks to the other politicians – and the cost of changing it would have to be met from the existing budget.
So back to the public sector then with the recommendations on how to change the light bulb but no money to do so. The various departments and agencies would gather round the light fitting and work out that yes, someone does indeed have to change the light bulb but who has authority to do so and more importantly, who is going to pay for that privilege? Every time a budget holder is identified, an assessment is needed – often bringing in other colleagues to look at things like health and safety – and after that assessment, a quick look at the budget would confirm that there wasn’t enough to pay for the light bulb this month.
Back to the partnership then and many more meetings, and humming and hawing about whose responsibility this light bulb is before eventually the original budget holder manages to come up with the money after all.
Then, a job sheet has to go through to the relevant department to get the light bulb changed and because this is a partnership approach, that requires a whole new way of working than if the budget holder was commissioning the task for itself. And more people to sign the job off of course. By which time, the budget situation has changed again and the original budget holder does not have the money after all.
Meantime, fed up of sitting in the dark, you complain to your local MSP and he or she expresses indignation and fires off a letter to the relevant Minister. A question is asked that leads to a parliamentary debate about how long it takes to change a light bulb, and the Minister concerned shrugs his or her shoulders and says what can we do? We met with the partnership and they promised to change the light bulb and we can’t interfere with their right or responsibility to change the light bulb. But we do agree that the light bulb must be changed and so we will get our people to investigate why the light bulb hasn’t been changed.
Along comes another public body which investigates the matter and looks at the problem, interviews all the people involved in the partnership and produces a report, saying of course the light bulb should be changed but the public sector agencies are not looking for the most efficient and effective way of changing the light bulb. The politicians agree and consider that the light bulb now needs to be changed as a matter of urgency.
The partnership looks at it again and concurs, but thinks that implementing the recommended way of funding and changing the light bulb needs a whole new process – and maybe more people involved with different skill sets? New people are duly brought into the partnership and some months and many meetings later, the new process is agreed, a budget is identified, a job sheet is produced, and the light bulb is changed.
But what’s this? It’s different from the original light bulb proposed and in fact, doesn’t seem to differ very much from the light bulb you had before. In fact, it doesn’t save any money and isn’t an energy efficiency one. There are neither short term nor long term savings to be made and actually, an awful lot of money has been spent along the way.
Do you complain? Of course not. You just thank your lucky stars you now have a working light bulb and hope to goodness it doesn’t blow anytime soon.
It might be funny if it really was light bulbs we were talking about changing. But because it’s about improving care for vulnerable adults and children – older, disabled, those with mental health problems and life-threatening and terminal diseases – and about finding ways to protect front line services when budgets get slashed, it’s not funny at all.