Whatever I have tried to do in life, I have tried with all my heart to do it well; whatever I have devoted myself to, I have devoted myself completely; in great aims and in small I have always thoroughly been in earnest.
There was an interesting piece tucked away in the Herald yesterday. It involved an exceedingly rare political occurrence: two local politicians of differing hues occupying a joint platform to promote an issue of mutual concern.
The local Labour and SNP leaders in North Ayrshire have done something so extraordinary, it warranted coverage in a national broadsheet. *MINISTERS have been warned they run the risk of much-needed cash-saving plans across local government being strangled at birth unless they take the lead and fund the moves*: where’s a sub editor when you need one?
Effectively, David O’Neill (Labour) and Matt Brown (SNP) got thegither to warn that any efforts to reform public services are doomed unless and until the Scottish Government makes councils do it or rewards them for doing so.
They have a point: turkeys, as we all know, do not tend to vote for Christmas. Despite lots of wise men and the occasional wumman being commissioned to produce a route map for the future of public service delivery, very little has happened. There has been a lot of hot air, far too many warm words and very few cool heads. Everyone has decided the reports and laws produced to date make far more effective doorstops and bookends than manuals for action.
Thus, the Clyde Valley councils have blathered for several years about the possibility of sharing a range of services but decided not to. There’s East and Midlothian councils sort of making progress on the idea of merging the management of children’s services. And in Ayrshire, the three local authorities have been discussing moving to a joint waste disposal system for ten years. Inevitably, a cottage industry has been invented to keep us all in conferences, frameworks and initiatives, thinking the thoughts and nodding sagely.
But very little to show for it. The current Local Government Minister, Derek Mackay has warned that reform will accelerate after the local government elections in May. But the Cabinet Secretary was warning of the need to accelerate reform in 2009.
According to Messrs Brown and O’Neill, there is neither incentive nor consequence compelling folk in local government to embrace the reform agenda. Make us do it, is their message to the Scottish Government, or reward us for doing so.
Matt Brown prefers the latter approach: “But there needs to be incentives. Shared services cost money and the Government should be frontloading some of that. But what do we offer citizens when there’s no money, and there is no money and won’t be any money. Post-election there needs to be a strong view that things need to happen. But there also needs to be rewards”.
It reminded me of the ongoing stushie over bankers and boardrooms’ bonuses and suggests that the culture at the top of the pile in the public sector is not so far removed from that in the private.
Since when did it become commonplace for those in the upper echelons of the public and private sectors to be paid simply to turn up, rather than fulfil the requirements in their job descriptions? According to the defenders of this something for nothing culture, to get people to do the job they were paid to do requires additional financial incentive. Eh?
It is nice to be rewarded when you do something well, when something you have invested time and effort in making happen, does. But most employees are content to know that they earned their dosh. A thank you and some praise from the boss can also go a long way. Or at least so I thought.
Now, in a bizarre turn on the Oliver Twist conceit, we have those with the most in terms of pay packages demanding more. Just to get on and do what they are supposed to do. Yes, change is hard and the public is going to need reassurance but most local voters will gladly pinpoint where change needs to happen. Senior officials and political leaders might be struggling to see what needs to be done: the public is under no such illusions.
One of the problems identified has been a lack of courage. To some extent, these boys are right. There are lots of very competent councillors, who are very good at doing the ward stuff, of advocating for individuals, businesses and organisations in their patches. There are far fewer capable of or indeed, interested in the strategic policy stuff. It’s part of the problem and one of the blockages: not enough bravehearts willing to drive forward change. Of course, this is where the likes of Mr O’Neill and Mr Brown come in – or is the idea of leaders leading too obvious?
The sand in the timer is fast running out, yet public sector officials and political leaders are trying to find sufficient grains in which to bury their heads. The attitude is you either make us do this or reward us for doing so. Give us something or else get nothing is the threat. How did we find ourselves mired in such a culture?
Ministers should get them telt: *This is a world of action, and not for moping and droning in*. Not for the first time, Charles Dickens captures it perfectly.