Headlines: June 30th, 2006

A new publication calls for improvements to productivity in local services to be an integral part of modern service delivery but it warns councils to guard against a ‘one size fits all’ approach to measuring productivity. The call comes in a collection of essays, “Made to Measure: Understanding local public service Productivity” from the New Local Government Network.The essays have been written by key figures in local government and think tanks as well as academics, who assess the challenges facing local authorities in offering value for money, greater accessibility and more choice. Together they argue that local authorities should see increased productivity as a way to prove to a sceptical electorate that they can deliver even better services.

The essays speculate that councils could be offered specific productivity objectives to deliver services at a lower cost and formal incentives or penalties for inefficient local services.

Natalie Tarry, Director of Research at SMF argues that productivity in the UK is low when compared to its competitors but she says people are becoming ever more distrustful of politicians and performance data, but expect more efficient services. That, she writes, means there is a need for more conclusive ways of measuring public sector efficiency.

Rob Whiteman, the Chief Executive of the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham, writing with Clare Montagu, says public sector managers should see driving down unit costs as intrinsic to delivering a high quality service. Just as a car manufacturer examines the labour and capital input of each component part to see if it can be provided or produced more cheaply, local authorities should examine every input in the production of services to ensure they are cost effective. They say the greatest challenge for local authorities is seeking to promote productivity in the delivery of their services. One possible way of raising productivity in local authorities, they say, is to give managers a specific productivity objective as well as service delivery requirements.

In another essay Professor Patrick Dunleavy and Simon Bastow, from the Public Policy Group at LSE argue that local managers need accurate ways to measure quality and satisfaction and not just the volume of units turned out. Value for money, they say, is a bigger issue of which efficiency is only a part.