It is conventional wisdom in all political parties to say that the cuts should be concentrated on the administrative overhead. Front line staff should be spared the cuts. I have said this myself. No-one wants to be hounded as a nurse sacker or a doctor reducer or a teacher cutter. Save our schools and hospitals is part of every UK politician’s mantra.
We need ,however, to think a little more carefully before assuming that all overhead and back up is bad. After all, there has been a long fashion to increase the amount of clerical and support work done for the police by civilian employees, so the police themselves can spend more time out of the office on duty, tackling criminals. Having the right number of specialist administrators, case workers and the like can make for more efficient policing.
In the NHS we need good medically trained nurses and cotors. We also need efficient receptionists, computer specialists to ensure the record systems work, procurement experts so the right medical supplies are available, and good administrators to keep a check on everything from patient records through to supplies of medicine. If we ask nurses and doctors to do too much of this work themselves we may have a less efficient and more expensive service.
The truth about cutting public spending is this. When it comes to core services like schools and hospitals which the public generally respects and wants, the only worthwhile thing to do is to make it more efficient. Both services will require more money over the years ahead, just as they have enjoyed throughout my lifetime. The sums will only be acceptable to taxpayers if we make the services more efficient whilst keeping or raising quality at the same time. Efficiency and quality go together if you introduce modern management approaches. Getting things right first time both raises quality and cuts costs, for example.
Anyone trying to achieve this should not be prejudge whether they need an extra front line employee or an extra or better adminsitrative support employee. Careful analysis of each situation should tell the managers whether they need more back up staff to free specialist time for specialist functions, or less back up because systems have become too bureaucratic and complex. Tomorrow I will look at other services where cuts are possible.