Archive for October, 2009

Prison performance

Not unlike the stories earlier this year from Mid-Staffordshire NHS Trust, we have news of prisoners being moved at short notice in advance of HM Inspector of Prisons arriving on a visit.  The consequences, from a narrow personal and/or organisational perspective, make sense – raise the performance, improve rankings etc.  But again, we have the sight of an organisation doing something which defeats its own very purpsoe.  There is significant evidence that a settled routine and a structured life in prison helps vulnerable young offenders who may have had no epxerience of structure in their life before (see earlier blog about Holloway Women’s Prison).  So in order to meet a short-term target, long-term damage is casually done.  Had the Demos report, discussed in a recent blog, focused upon the details of these sorts of consequences of organisational performance incentives and regimes, a more inteligent discussion might have emerged.

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Freedom of Information

Law in Action on Radio 4 had a very intersting, even balanced, piece about the Freedom of Information Act.  There is a brief article at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/law_in_action/8316657.stm and you can listen again at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/console/b00n88cz.

But there is tendency to see the positive impacts (MPs expenses revealed etc) and overemphasise the progress.  Earlier this summer, a report was finally released after a long period of obstruction and resistance.  The report describes Nottingham City Council as dysfunctional.  The following articles tell the tale: http://www.thisisnottingham.co.uk/news/City-council-don-t-dysfunctional/article-1042797-detail/article.html and http://www.thisisnottingham.co.uk/news/Battle-information-secret-draft-report/article-698875-detail/article.html.  The use of the FOI is often limited and easily frustrated.  It requires some real determination to pursue.  And the government is too ready to dismiss it as costly because of what it determines are ‘frivolous’ requests.  In the case of Nottingahm, the refusakl to release the report for so long reflected the dysfunctional culture.  A an authority willing to be criticised in public would not need the FOI to force it to reveal its ‘secrets’.

The full report is available on request – it is a sizeable file.

Leading from the Front

Finally got around to reading this Demos report (http://www.demos.co.uk/publications/leading-from-the-front).  It received a little publicity at the time for its suggestion that all central inspection agencies should be abolished and that front line public service workers should be liberated to use their initiative etc.  In some ways, I have sympathy for the idea and hoped to read a cogent analysis that pointed out the problems of performance, of organisational forms and of the whole systems of incentives as they currently operate.  Alas, the work is superficial and, while it briefly mentions the possible downsides of removing all oversight, absolutely fails to address such concerns.

Perhaps worse, though, I suspect the pamphlet has tried to practice what it preached.  It appears to have dispensed with any proof-reading or other form of quality oversight and is riddled with errors.  How do we ensure that a removal of oversight in our public services does not lead to errors but to improvements in the responsiveness of public services?