CALL FOR POLITICIANS TO WORK WITH PUBLIC MANAGERS
Top public sector commentators have combined to defend the quality of public management in the light of recent high profile failures in public services.
Writing in a report from the Pubic Management and Policy Association, seniorpublic servants in central and local government and academics looked at the roles of public sector managers in the light of a rapidly changing political and social landscape. The Report ‘What is Public Management For?’ aims to prompt managers to participate in the debate and to encourage local and national politicians to listen to public managers. Its key message is that public sector reform will only be successful if politicians work with, not against, public service managers.
In a foreword to the report, Cabinet Secretary, Sir Gus O’Donnell, said: “Theories about what makes ‘good’ public management have changed in line with changing political demands, and improved understanding of the delivery of public services. But now that we have introduced the customer to the heart of public service provision, public management – and the central question behind this PMPA report – are more important than ever.”
Several contributors to the report examine the relationship between public officials and politicians and the conflicts that can arise – particularly,the age-old dichotomy of a politician knowing what he or she wants to achieve, and the official knowing how to achieve it. Because politicians are in no position to manage services, they sometimes resort to repeated restructurings in the hope that these will somehow substitute for better management.
Barry Quirk, chief executive of the London Borough of Lewisham, likened the relationship between public sector managers and elected politicians to that of private sector managers and their boards of directors. He said: “I greatly suspect that the tensions between a private sector board and its executives are every bit as ‘up close and personal’ as between elected politicians and public officials. However, accountability to elected politicians is not the only prism through which public managers are held to account. They also have to fully disclose their activities, processes and outcomes to enquiry from the public.”