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VOCAL POINT - BY ROY BENTHAM, CONSULTANT

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Instead of running with gazelles, the government is stringing together elephants. ...
Instead of running with gazelles, the government is stringing together elephants.

Management guru Tom Peters said: 'In 1950 we knew everything about organisations, now we know nothing.' It seems to me that those advising the government on options for managing local service delivery are stuck in the 1950s. Their certainty is impressive, their advice anachronistic. The irony is that local government minister Hilary Armstrong is light years ahead of them, talking as she regularly does of devolving to a newly empowered local government which itself should be empowering communities. As we enter the third decade of the destruction of local democracy, however, her cries appear to be from the wilderness. The influence seems to lie elsewhere.

How can it possibly be, when the world's great third millennium organisations are based on empowered diversity, that the UK government is wedded to centralised conformity? At the precise moment when organisational gazelles are enjoying their freedom in a transformed world, this government is stringing together herds of elephants. Stalin would blush at the superstructure constructed in a vain attempt to control councils via best value and other initiatives. And now, when goodwill and co-operation are key to delivering this hopeless leviathan, front line first comes along to demoralise and frighten those wrestling with the challenge.

'Government to cut out town hall middlemen' read one headline. Even before the 1950s, when customers were slow moving, predictable and undemanding, it was impossible to control local service delivery from Whitehall and Westminster. The current cunning plan deserves to be shot to pieces.

Actually, as a manager, it makes me angry to see our public services being subjected to threadbare and irrelevant ideas. The models these advisers should be studying are on the doorstep. Ask Richard Branson how he manages his 250 companies, operating as they do in highly regulated contexts and within a customer-respected ethos that any council would be proud of. Forget conformity and think diversity. Shun central control and cultivate devolved empowerment. Use words like trust and support. Then build up the self-esteem of those being entrusted with the task of regenerating our communities. A whole raft of legislation would be surplus to requirements, as would be those who are propagating the current time-lapsed ideology.

And there is a final irony. Having, in the public's perception, taken responsibility for service delivery they cannot hope to control, ministers will now have to take the blame for every service failure.

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