The employers? vision is nothing less than a transformation of management in local government. But trade union resistance on one hand, and a barrel-load of government initiatives on the other have tended to hinder the introduction of good management techniques.
We may now have a narrow window of opportunity to think about what needs to be done. It is a widely held belief local government lags years behind the British and American private sectors in adopting new techniques. This may not be quite fair, as management theory is communicated as instantly as anything else these days. What is crucial is to have the right climate to introduce and use techniques properly. The lack of this in the past may have led local government to pass over some very useful methods and move hastily on to the next fad.
A case in point is the quality method of W Edwards Deming ? a relatively unsung hero of the Japanese manufacturing miracle. Quality management is not a way of wringing every last ounce of effort out of staff. The focus is on involving staff in developing and sharing much better processes. Deming calls for breaking down barriers to pride in the job and for much more rigorous training and development, for instance. His approach is that we should work smarter, not harder. This insight applies equally to services as to manufacturing or processing.
Local government must not be afraid to look to tried and tested methods in the drive to increase productivity and quality. As part of this drive, the Employers? Organisation is recommending and facilitating the use of value management. This is a discipline with a long heritage that involves bringing teams together to analyse what they do in carefully focused discussions.
We can no longer manage by enthusiasm alone and rely on staff goodwill in working longer hours. What is the point in working longer hours for no measurable effect? That actually lowers productivity.
The UK must find ways of working continental hours and achieving continental output. With our much lower unemployment rate than France or Germany, that would put us in the economic driving seat in Europe, euro or not.