One of the most thought provoking and challenging presentations that I have witnessed took place at last week’s Socitm Local CIO Council. It was given by Vishanth Weerakkody and Paul Waller from Brunel University. It had the very appealing title of ‘Overcoming the Systemic Failure of Transformation’. I was salivating at the thought.
The presentation started well enough, describing the millions of pounds of investment in public services to transform them in ways that simply had not worked. Yes, the functions we are delivering now are different, perhaps more effective, perhaps not yet not transformed.
Vishanth had a caterpillar as a metaphor for transformation yet for me a caterpillar metamorphosing into a butterfly is not transformation. The butterfly is the known future state of its more junior phase. A caterpillar becoming a dog is transformation.
My eyes were truly opened however when we got around to language. Paul was clear that in the public administration sense, a service is an organisation not an activity (children’s services, refuse services, ICT services) and that public services in this context means publicly funded rather than serving the public.
Now I know that those of us who work in local authorities do so to serve the public, yet local government is solely the operational administration of public instruments set by the government in Westminster. Many public services do serve the public but not all do. Public bodies are not instruments of management but are instruments of policy.
And therein lies the nub. I have been working hard trying to transform a local authority not local government. I’m not trying to transform policy. I only want to deliver the best I can for the users of my services (in the activity sense of the word).
I’ve been doing the wrong job all these years. It was right in front of my eyes but nobody explained it to me, nor could I work it out for myself.
The question I posed therefore was, is local government the same as the local authority. I’ll have to ponder on that one.