The country needs a public sector. I’m not going to argue about how big it should be or what the right proportion of the gross national product is. I will leave that to others and there are many of them better able than I am to speak on such matters. It needs to be somewhere between what we absolutely need and what we can afford.
But why do we need one? Three reasons. The first is that man is a social animal. We live in a society and expect others to play along with the rules and regulations. We have notions of what is fair and just and would like others to be as good citizens as we are. So we need someone or something to define the rules and make sure that they are adhered to. We need laws and lawmakers. We need peace and peacekeepers.
Secondly we need a fabric in which society can operate. We need those things that society needs for the free flow of ideas and goods which no individual could provide on their own. We need local, national and even international infrastructure.
Thirdly we need some resource for when things go wrong. When there is a hurricane or a fire or a flood we rely upon the public sector as a back stop. When all else fails then there must be something that won’t fail.
So we need a public sector and we need one with sufficient critical mass to be able to operate. We need to make sure we survive.
So how do we square this circle during times of austerity? For me the answer lies in greater collaboration between the local authorities and with the other public agencies. I have used the word collaboration rather than shared services as I think there is a difference. Shared services have become synonymous with one authority providing services at a cost to another rather than sharing. This throws up huge issue of trust and inter-locality rivalry. Shared services are fine as long as you are the provider and not the recipient.
Collaboration suggests a better alternative, one in which all parties have a stake. One in which both parties either provide services to each other or where they come together to provide services on each other’s behalf. It sounds the same but there is a subtle difference. To share a service you need to collaborate. It’s less threatening, it’s more inclusive and it should be an easier sell.
This is why I am interested in working much more closely with our colleagues in Northumberland, not as a takeover plan but an opportunity to truly work together for the benefit of the public sector and the region, hopefully. This is third on my list of things that I want to achieve this year. I’m also interested in other regional collaboration initiatives and so this is why I am involved in Dynamo, the North East ICT Managers group (NEICT) and the Society of ICT Managers in the North East (SOCITM).
My book ‘The Wisdom of the Enneagram’ by Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson has arrived and I started to read it on the train.