After making the Commons speech I found the figures for public sector productivity. Between 1997 and 2010 there was no growth at all in public sector productivity. If the public sector had been able to match the manufacturing sector longer term trend of say 2.5% a year productivity increases we would now have 37% more public service for our spending, or we could spend 27% less money to receive the same level of service. That is big money.
In the private sector what the public sector calls “cuts” are sensible reductions in cost to make things cheaper, or sensible improvements in quality by cutting out waste and error. One of the big differences I have seen between those parts of the public sector I have led as a Minister and those companies I have led as a Chairman or director is the approach to quality and cost. In the private sector lower cost is often seen as an ally of higher quality. The best ways to get costs down are to do things right first time, to waste less input, spend less time doing something, and avoid customer complaints by offering good product and service. In the public sector taking out cost is seen as a threat to staff, and is often used as a reason for poor performance or for the need to reduce service.
In a cost cutting shop the manager does not usually tell the boss that the next cut has to be a cut to the number of customers who can be handled, or a reduction in the number of products they sell to customers. The manager looks for ways of automating more, helping staff perform better, finding ways to sell more goods to bring in more revenue. In parts of the public sector, when asked to cut costs, managers parade a set of cuts to services in the hope that these will prove unacceptable to the boss.
Given the new enthusiasm for productivity gains on both sides of the Commons, now would be a good time to launch a plan to raise quality and productivity throughout the public sector.