The UK’s public sector productivity problem

In an age of digital investment, artificial intelligence, smart phone activity and other leaps forward in productivity from technology, you would expect the UK public services to have had a good 25 years achieving more from its workforce thanks to investment and modernisation. Instead the Office of National Statistics reports that public sector productivity by the end of last year was lower than 25 years ago, at a time when the private sector had continued to show reasonable annual growth. In the whole period 1997-2019 the one fifth of the UK economy that is public services managed growth of just 3.7% in productivity. In 2020 productivity fell 13.3% thanks to lockdowns. In the following two years when the private sector made a full recovery from covid the public sector showed a rise of 7.3% in productivity in 2021 and of 1.9% in 2022, leaving it 5.2% below 2019 levels, and 1.7% below 1997.

UK public services are very labour intensive. We all want plenty of great teachers, good doctors and nurses and well trained uniformed police and defence  personnel to take care of us and protect us. Behind them lie large back offices with people giving the front line professionals support. In these areas more can be done by computer and by organising workloads and shifts well. Back up staff can keep more of the records and handle more of the administration to get the best out of the public facing staff. In too many areas management imposes a wide range of duties, checks and forms on staff which can get in the way of undertaking the day job instead of supporting its better performance.

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury has been put in charge of trying to cut through the complexities and overhead costs to deliver just that amount of administrative support and good planning that a successful service needs. He needs to do a lot to improve management performance especially in the NHS where huge sums of additional spending have been released without a proportionate increase in output. Your thoughts on how this can be achieved would be of interest.


  1. Mark B
    July 21, 2023

    Good morning.

    The Chief Secretary to the Treasury has been put in charge of trying to cut through the complexities and overhead costs . . .

    Should’ve started that 13 years ago. By now you would be reaping the benefits of a smaller low cost State.

    I am surprised that given how much of government activity is now on line, from driving licenses to filling tax returns, we have poor productivity. This is in part due to Minister and various Parliamentary Committees not doing their job by making sure that the Public Purse is protected. Much better to just tax people more to cover over the cracks than deal with the fraud, as witnessed during the SCAMDEMIC, and general incompetence of numerous government departments.

    I refuse to finance failure.

    PS I am amazed that the government can find £600m to give to an Indian company to build a battery factory but could not.

    Last year, Britishvolt asked the government to advance £30m of a promised £100m in support, but was refused as the company had not hit agreed construction milestones to access the funds.

    Reply The difference is JKR can sell its batteries and put up the bulk of the money for its project.

    1. Mark B
      July 21, 2023

      . . . but could not for a British one.

      1. Nigl
        July 21, 2023

        Not hitting construction milestones. Over ambitious? Incompetent? So very early questions about managements ability.

        Why would anyone invest in that?

    2. BOF
      July 21, 2023

      Reply to reply.
      The non green EV’s sit on the fore courts despite the subsidies. Money down the drain all round.

      1. Mark B
        July 21, 2023

        And their resale values are tanking.

      2. glen cullen
        July 21, 2023

        Correct – nobodies buying them, nobody wants them (I’m talking about the general public)

    3. Peter
      July 21, 2023

      ‘ Behind them lie large back offices with people giving the front line professionals support’

      Or large back offices getting in the way, or making needless changes, or increasing cost with unnecessary staff on large salaries.

      Teachers, for example, have to fill in all sorts of needless paperwork. Often a new broom at the top will decide to make changes so that they can claim to have made improvements.

      Exams can be manipulated so that the pass rate seems to have improved.

      Other aspects of a teachers role are difficult to quantify anyway – turning out decent people, who do their best and contribute to society rather than cause trouble or get into it. A role they share with parents. The back office are now often keen to undermine the ‘in loco parentis’ aspect with fashionable new ideas.

    4. Ian+wragg
      July 21, 2023

      Wait until the taxpayer gets shafted over the awarding of contracts for SMRs. Exporting jobs and know how again.

    5. Len
      July 21, 2023

      The public sector is struggling cos the Tories have spent 13 years underfunding it

      1. a-tracy
        July 21, 2023

        Is that true Len, every single public service is underfunded for the past 13 years? Even when inflation was in very low digits, there was no uplift at all anywhere.

        If so, where had the extra taxation money gone prior to 2019 if not into public spending?

      2. Lynn Atkinson
        July 22, 2023

        When Gordon Brown doubled the NHS budget (hoping to be remembered for that action) they were quiet for a week, then decided they were ‘underfunded’.

  2. Everhopeful
    July 21, 2023

    We used to have good services.
    Every single “leap forward” has served to gradually erode them.
    Now we have nothing.
    But then..politicians couldn’t wait to destroy what we had.

    1. Peter Gardner
      July 22, 2023

      I cannot remember any period during which the NHS could claim to have provided good service. There have been exceptions that were good but the average across the board is very poor by international standards and parts of it are apallingly bad.

  3. Donna
    July 21, 2023

    The Chief Sec to the Treasury should review all their Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and scrap all of the ones that do not DIRECTLY relate to Service Delivery.

    That would, at a stroke, get rid of the “Green” box ticking fiefdoms; Equality/Diversity box ticking fiefdoms and anything else which is to do with internal matters.

    And then divert those staff into service delivery (if they’re capable of it) or make them redundant.

    Not holding my breath.

    1. PeteB
      July 21, 2023

      Well said Donna. Many private sector businesses “invest” in such ESG/DEI areas too but nothing like the scale of the public sector. The “diversity champion” will be an individual with a real job who has this task added to their work requirements. That allows the business to tick the box when challenged. It is only the extreme do-gooder management teams that genuinely embrace and spend big on such nonsense.

      If the public sector cannot reach productivity targets then look at privatising those roles.

      1. a-tracy
        July 21, 2023

        Oh yes, because privatising Dentists (by Blair, by the way after his horrendous 2005 settlement which has caused so many problems in our health services) has worked so well for everyone except those that can afford Dental plans and high payments.

    2. BOF
      July 21, 2023

      +1 Donna.

  4. Peter Gardner
    July 21, 2023

    It rather depends on how you measure productivity. Common measures are the ratio of what you get per unit cost or sometimes per unnit capital. The cost is easy to measure in £ for bought in goods, services, capital and hours worked by employee. The output is easy to measure for an organisation that sells goods and services but it is very difficult in the public sector and therefore it is also difficult to buld in incentives as would be done by various methods such as the Balanced Score Card, which the NHS tried and fell into the trap of applying the wrong measures so the easiest way to shorten waiting lists was simply to take patients off the waiting list and make it harder for patients to get onto the waiting list.
    Basically £ and hours are the common currency of the private sector but there is no common currency in the public sector.
    An alternative measure would be effectiveness. It is easy to regard the entire public sector as an overhead and the private sector as the only productive sector of the econy of UK Ltd. But that is false, A wholly unregulated private sector would be chaotic and damaging in measurable ways. It is often claimed the NHS is efficient. That is because it is costs less per capita than the US, German or French health care systems. But its outcomes are significantly worse. The effectiveness of the NHS can be measured in terms of health outcomes compared with other countries. The length of the waiting list or the time it takes to get the required service is not a primary measure because it ignores clinical urgency and importance (the two are not quite the same thing). So it needs to be measured in a way that links it to outcomes and so that incentives operating on the management of the waiting lists improve outcomes, rather than shortening waiting times. The mistake with the NHS was the political commitment to shortening waiting lists. The underlying causes were fudged (easily done) to give the public the impression of an improvement.
    If you compare outcomes and costs of health services you don’t find a simple correlation between outcomes and costs, not even on secondary measures such as beds or doctors per thousand population. More money does not mean better outcomes. My initial comparison of the Australian and UK health system, both of which I know fairly well, leads me to conclude the difference is in the way the flow of funding is controlled. the Australian system costs a little more per capita but the outcomes are vastly superior: it is much more effective than the NHS. I’ve explained all this before so I won’t repeat it.
    The same approach might prove efficacious with the rest of the public sector. The effectiveness of Government departments regulating industry can be measured collectively in terms of improvements to private sector productivity. So every regulatory change should be made only if it can be shown to improve productivity. This is sometimes done using pilot schemes. Modelling is a dirty word post Covid but it is a necessary component of estimating effects of changes before incurring the costs and risks of making the change. We all have budgets and what is put into a budget is a result of a model of some sort. It is particularly important when working across silos of organisation to gain insight at the highest level: industry productivity.
    Short answer. It can only done to the public sector using an outsider, yes another bruddy consultant, or better in my view, an interim manager, ie a consultant with excutive power, broght in near at the top of each department and accountable only to the head of that department.

    Reply THE NHS uses consultations and treatments administered. The cost of the NHS unlike other health systems does not include the costs of insuring and charging. You need to add in the personnel and costs of collecting all the Income tax and Corporation tax to pay for it to provide a better comparison with foreign insured systems.

    1. Peter Gardner
      July 24, 2023

      Thank you for your reply. Australia’s system integrates private and public provision so also incurs costs of taxation, administration of regulation, Medicare etc.. I maintain the key difference is giving patients control of the flow of funds!

  5. Nigl
    July 21, 2023

    Management is the art of working with ‘scarce’ resources. So no budget increases. Require executive management across the public sector to work within them so they have to take cost out and this means headcount reduction. Set targets as part of annual reviews.

    Strip out layers of management by looking at what value each one adds. What back office functions can be amalgamated/, automated? How much property can be got rid of/re sited etc.

    Be tough/pro active around absenteeism. Regular ‘offenders’ must have a health assessment. Far firmer performance management from top to bottom.

    Leave vacancies un filled requiring management to look how the sane work can be done by those remaining.

    How much reporting is unnecessary? How many meetings similarly. Assess the cost/benefit. If the former is larger, don’t have them.

    Look at useless subsidy scenes and close off.

    I cannot believe minimum 10% is not achievable.

    1. a-tracy
      July 21, 2023

      Nigl ‘a health assessment.’ I’d go further than an occupational health assessment; they don’t get people back to work, and often they give them more excuses to stay off.
      I’d have proper doctors appointments, tests and treatment to get them back into work or offer alternative work (fewer hours, stressful, physical duties, it is a big enough organisation to do this) suitable to their present capabilities, re-opening their old position they haven’t been able to do for a protracted period of time for a full-time replacement.

  6. Everhopeful
    July 21, 2023

    It might have occurred to someone with half a brain in the 1980s that…
    holding “inclusive, diverse” cultural celebrations and “dressing down” ( in shorts etc) to go out of the office onto what was then a bustling High Street, shaking charity tins …
    Just wasn’t very productive at all.
    And nor was “Whatshername” working from home in “wherever”, uncontactable for days on end.

    And how about non-specialist ( consultants needed to help them)higher managers recruited in a levelling-up exercise, holding meetings in places other than the office.
    And consultants of course on £squillions pd.
    All very, very productive. Not.
    And now we have nothing.
    Except a computer, a stupid child’s toy that can never properly replace people.

    1. Ian B
      July 21, 2023

      @Everhopeful Nurturing discrimination you mean

  7. Berkshire Alan
    July 21, 2023

    For a start stop allowing working from home, as this does nothing for team spirit, the sharing of information by workers during casual meetings with others, and whilst you may be able to measure key strokes, you cannot measure effectiveness, and run sensible training, upgrading schemes and skills and the like, without some sort of personal mentoring or involvement.
    It would seem to me that the quality and capabilities of management in the public sector need a massive upgrade, which cannot be achieved by promoting or just moving sideways the incompetent as so often seems to happen at the moment.

  8. Sakara Gold
    July 21, 2023

    Supply chain increases on steel costs of 40% plus higher costs for finance, electric cable, turbine towers and the generators have forced Vattenfall to halt work on the huge Norfolk Boreas windfarm project off the Norfolk coast, despite having already spent £415 million. To make renewable electricity projects such as this commercially viable for the developers will now need a substantial increase in the strike price for the electricity generated.

    The long strategy by the fossil fuel cartel to cause high inflation and raise the price of energy is having it’s malign effect on the development of more UK offshore wind generation. This, coupled with the government’s imposition of a windfall profits tax on renewable energy with no tax breaks for investment in the N Sea – despite taking huge profits on the existing CfD contracts – is now causing renewable companies to halt work on projects. Grant Schwraps should hang his head in shame

    1. Hat man
      July 21, 2023

      Nonsense, SG: the fossil fuel industry did not order massive money-printing to offset the disastrous lockdown policy decisions. The fossil fuel industry did not create the huge drop in demand for energy in 2020 – the lockdowns did, and when businesses reopened, energy production could not be geared up in time to meet suddenly increased demand, which caused price rises. The fossil fuel industry did not impose sanctions on Russia, thereby massively increasing pressure on energy prices – governments imposed them. Government decisions have been totally responsible for inflation, and the fossil fuel industry has merely reacted to the stupid decisions of the politicians.

  9. Iago
    July 21, 2023

    Yes, something definitely needs to be done about public service activity or destruction; deaths are up and live births among the covid vaccinated are down and similarly the importation of the cross-channel, overwhelmingly non-christian (I realise accuracy is not allowed) invaders has increased. The public service should cease in almost all fields, including the new one of propaganda aimed at our own population.

  10. Des
    July 21, 2023

    “We all want plenty of great teachers, good doctors and nurses and well trained uniformed police and defence personnel to take care of us and protect us.”
    But what we actually get are teachers that are more left wing than Karl Marx, doctors and nurses that will push fake pandemics and lethal injections for profit, police that only prosecute non crimes on Twitter whilst leaving grooming gangs untouched, a woke military incapable of beating a gang of girl guides and whose equipment has been sent to a fascist country for a proxy war on behalf of Washington.
    We don’t want more productivity from that kind of public sector, we’re better off with no public sector.

    1. Everhopeful
      July 21, 2023

      Great points.
      Hear Hear!

    2. Peter
      July 21, 2023

      “We don’t want more productivity from that kind of public sector, we’re better off with no public sector.”

      Lots of roles need to be justified. The Queen used to ask people ‘…and what do you do?’

      We need an Emperor Nero-type who could dismiss the useless ones with a thumbs down after a short conversation and a look at the job description.

  11. Bloke
    July 21, 2023

    Being in charge could work but “Put in charge of trying” is an odd concept.
    Verbatim rings a bell in the link below involving Tony Blair and Deng Xiaoping in this article about Delivering Results:

  12. formula57
    July 21, 2023

    A true triumph of hope over experience that you ask “Your thoughts on how this can be achieved would be of interest” for the collective record of commenters here in responding to such invitations is very poor indeed.

    My poor contribution is to say surely the task at first is local, not at the Chief Secretary level, where experiment can be undertaken and only second at Minister level then overseeing a national system of rapid roll-out where success is encountered?

    Having recently renewed online a passport I was impressed with the minimalist approach to information gathering, the robustness of the systems and clarity of instructions, the timely and complete updates by email, and the promptness of receipt of the replacement (just fifteen days). How all that translates to Passport Office productivity I have no notion but it seems support from current technology is at a good level.

  13. Dave Andrews
    July 21, 2023

    The back office doesn’t give the front line support. They are there to collect information for government statistics and implement bureaucratic systems so they can cover themselves in case of a claim. They generate paperwork for the front line, turning nurses and teachers into bureaucrats as well.
    They have diversity managers not just because the management is left wing woke, but in case an activist employee takes them to court and they have to pay compensation.

  14. Ian B
    July 21, 2023

    Grow departments, create empires and you become untouchable, as to many people will be affected by the sensibility of productivity.

    The is the New Conservative Government of the small State – say one thing do the complete opposite. When people realise the damage will be so far embedded into the system it is easier to ignore the problem

  15. Ian B
    July 21, 2023

    Are Discrimination Departments the ‘be all end all’ of the ‘Blob’ thinking. Look how that has helped the UK Government owned Bank, the Government is now to paralysed to do anything that everyone can see that needs to be done.

    Our friends across the pond have a legal system on their side, the highest courts in the land have said the form of discrimination that riddles the UK State, this Conservative Government Programs and taxpayer cost is just simply illegal and unconstitutional.

  16. agricola
    July 21, 2023

    Simple really SJR, if the private sector is not at the front end of productivity it goes out of business. Darwinian if you think about it.
    The public sector can drift from disaster to disaster without penalty because ruling parties are daft enough to let them. The one positive from this is that their failures shield us from their lust for power and general incompetence. They must never be given the tools to make them competent, the country cannot afford it.

  17. Ralph Corderoy
    July 21, 2023

    It would be interesting to look for correlations between middle-manager staff and the change in productivity improvements over time. Say HMRC, or an NHS trust. Sex and age would be two examples. Go back far enough and the bulk of managers would be men. The argument would rightly be made that this potentially left them short of qualities which a woman would bring to the role. What if the situation is now reversed with such great strides being made in women filling this tier of positions that the output could be short of male qualities.

    Of course, correlation, including a lagging one, doesn’t mean causation but the more data that can be examined the greater chance a partial causation may be found. The flexibility of working hours. The size of HR departments. Days off sick. The depth of the management hierarchy. Number of emails. Median number of email recipients. Scour for the data available and what may be gleaned from it by those skilled in the hunt.

    1. a-tracy
      July 21, 2023

      Oh, Groan! Women that work for themselves rarely take time off sick; I’ve had less time off sick in 42 years than I can count on both hands. These women in the public sector wanting time off for period pain do us all a disservice when attitudes over our reliability are questioned as a whole section of the workforce.

      1. Ralph Corderoy
        July 23, 2023

        Hi a-tracy, Women were just an example of a change in the workplace over the long term and sick leave didn’t come to mind. What if blunt talking, lack of empathy, and a hint of aggression scattered about the managerial class was more productive? I’ve no idea if that’s the case, but rather than theorise over the lack of productivity improvement and centrally plan an intervention to fix the previous interventions, why not work backwards from correlation to test for causation?

        1. a-tracy
          July 23, 2023

          Sick leave affects productivity Ralph which is why I made the leap and it affects the morale of the others that have to pick up the slack, including many women who just get on with their job through all sorts of challenges.

          Women managers can be accused of all those things blunt talking, lack of empathy and the aggression is usually called argumentative.

          I don’t like it when women take a job and want to change it just to suit them forcing more of their male colleagues to pick up the weekends, nights, heavier tasks and picking up extra work through school holidays etc. The requests to do part-time is great after starting a family and not being available to cover. Even if part-time requests, higher sickness in female to male correlated what would you do about it now that two incomes are required in a family home as male overtime has reduced to under 48 hours per week for the majority and there are also more demands on men to be present in the family.

  18. Richard1
    July 21, 2023

    – Cancel HS2 and sell the land acquired with accelerated planning permission to mitigate the losses
    – conduct a burden of proof exercise on all quangos – ie require them to come up with a rigorous cost-benefit analysis on the purpose of their existence. Those that fail to be abolished with the staff either made redundant, or in cases where they perform some function that must continue, transferred to the civil service. Those that survive to have sunset clauses requiring their periodic renewal or automatic abolition.
    – the immediate closure of all ‘diversity ‘equity’ and inclusion departments in the public sector with persons holding positions with such titles made redundant unless they are eligible to apply for jobs elsewhere in the public sector on a competitive basis
    – a rigorous analysis of public sector procurement. This seems to be a catastrophic disaster in the case of defence. Mr Wallace has rightly said it’s no good hiring more troops if they can’t be equipped. True, but how can the UK’s defence budget be so much higher than comparable countries’ but with the actual numbers of personnel, functioning planes, ships, tanks etc so low? One answer is the terrible incompetence in procurement with examples being the Ajax vehicle and the 2 carriers. Doubtless this is true in other areas such as the NHS
    – the entire public sector to attend offices in person unless there are very good reasons not to. Failure to comply to result in dismissal for cause (may need a ‘notwithstanding’ clause to go through parliament so the courts don’t get in the way)

    Probably lots of others but all the above would be vote winning, money saving, productivity improving measures.

  19. Bert+Young
    July 21, 2023

    Whatever happens in the frontline depends entirely on the quality of direction , control and discipline follow -up of its management . Familiarity with AI is now a prime requirement but it is only as good as leadership skills . Today the Civil Service is far too big and the time lag in communication has a lot to do with this – time costs money . Everything depends on the quality of the selection and organisation of key people and this is better done by independent advice to the top .

  20. Linda Brown
    July 21, 2023

    Your biggest problem is Sunak giving everyone (not me unfortunately) 80% of pay to stay at home and not work during COVID. What a nonsense which any sane person could see would result in them not wanting to work. I have them all round me in the 40 year age bracket who have gone part-time or are still working from home (seen one of them exercising on her bike this morning before going to the gym!). Come on get them back to work. Stop berating Jacob and let him loose on the workshy lot we seem to have in this country. God help us when the next war comes and it will pretty soon I guess. I suppose they will all be opting out of protecting the country on mental health grounds and leaving it to us old ones who had parents fight in the 2nd World War and before. What a country this has become.

    1. a-tracy
      July 21, 2023

      Yes, Linda I agree, many previous never-claimers couldn’t believe how much Universal credit they could get.

  21. Mickey Taking
    July 21, 2023

    Just like the example of the NHS, other state public services always want more staff and better pay to pretend they will solve efficiency questions and provide improved services. Various reorganisations are proposed, but none acted upon or improvements realised – perhaps due to them threatening the status quo the management is very happy with? Cuts will have to be forced upon them, willingness is not going to happen.

  22. David Arthur Burrows
    July 21, 2023

    Hospital administration is a scandal money spent on back room bods administering each other at an expanding rate while front line staff feel frustrated

  23. Kenneth
    July 21, 2023

    What has ruined public services has been the crazy BBC mindset that measures how good they are by the amount of money put into them.

    Public services are like all other services – a balance between good service and cost control. Renumeration should reflect that balance. It’s a matter of arithmetic.

    The government needs to define good results and then provide a financial incentive matrix based on reward for good results and penalty for wastage/overspend.

    The current socialist government will never implement this, especially whlie it takes its orders ftom the civil service.

  24. a-tracy
    July 21, 2023

    I’d check which departments have a lot of staff off on long-term sick they’re not missing by having to put agency/temporary staff in their place.

    I’d look at hospital productivity by checking on how many beds there are per ward and how many care workers per head. Could more beds be put in low-dependency wards (what happened to all those covid privacy pods and beds?)? Look at more apprentices moved to deliver their basic care needs with senior trainers and healthcare trainees from age 16 learning whilst earning in the workplace rather than 6th form. Put charging stations in all A&E departments and give GPs smartphone tap card charging facilities for anyone without NHS registration; hairdressers and charity collectors can do it, so why can’t the NHS? Take the new European health card and make sure every 1p is recharged. Immigrant and Refugee health spending needs billing back to the foreign office budget and cost properly. The NHS should be generating its own growth in funding too, and stop just looking to us to carry them and the rest of the world tourists, students and health tourists.

    I’d look at 18-year-olds coming out of foster care and ensure they are getting supported into student-type digs in either universities or apprentice accommodation bases/maybe using student halls, training in essential services if they cannot look after themselves because they have no family support.

    We are allowing too many under-25s to pick and choose whether they work or not. The man child – Mizzy, idle hands and all that- why wasn’t that man/boy working? Is it perhaps because if they earn, their parent’s housing benefit gets cut, so they can’t? How much would the parent lose if they took a minimum wage job? Cutting the welfare bill reduces the people hired to subsidise all these idlers and move them into productive front-line work instead of payment clerks.

  25. a-tracy
    July 21, 2023

    By the way, consultants striking isn’t going to help anything either; you’re going to comply anyway, it’s all about the differentials, move up the bottom 10%, and everyone wants their differentials kept, move up the nurses, the doctors want more, then the consultants want more.

    Change the national pay bargaining. When Scotland gave 12.5%, they tipped your hand. The tail wags the dog as always.

  26. Keith from Leeds
    July 21, 2023

    It is simple but requires a ruthless approach. Make 400,000 Civil Servants redundant, shut down every Quango, stop giving money to Charities that oppose the government, and stop giving aid to countries like China & India. If 120-plus years ago, we ran an empire with about 10,000 Civil Servants, why do we need 530,000 now?
    Then you could seriously reduce taxes, both personal & business, & watch the economy grow.

  27. XY
    July 21, 2023

    This is the consequence of socialism. They create jobs that depend on government, knowing that non-socialist political parties who threaten to reduce numbers, or make them work harder, find that they are pushing against an increasingly large voter base who are civil servants with a vested interest in maintaining their job, salary and conditions.

    Then you have the Putins of this world driving migrants in to dilute our society’s coherence and culture, funding organisations who undermine our history, culture and values… and you force the right to either lose election after election or adopt increasingly socialist policies.

    However, the Britsh voting public always has the capacity to surprise – Uxbridge showed that when a conservative stands up for conservative values, such as opposition to ULEZ, it’s a vote winner. Just as Brexit was when Johnson’s party stood up for being British over being dominated by unelected European bureaucrats. The Conservative Party should try it again some time (getting rid of Sunak, Hunt and about 200 Lib Dems in blue clothing would be an essential first start).

  28. Narrow Shoulders
    July 21, 2023

    A large part of the public sector productivity issue is the lack of sanction and jobs for life.

    Public services should not necessarily be measured for productivity but they should be delivered well and to a measurable high standard. Competition would help massively too

  29. Dr John de los Angeles
    July 21, 2023

    Sir John,
    Because I have regrettably had to have a very long life dealing with the NHS I have experienced its decline more rapidly since the introduction particularly of hundreds of NHS trusts duplicating over paid multitudes of administrative bureaucracy.
    I am having another operation at the end of the month at Frimley Park Hospital. Last week I had a pre-op review there and prior to this I had to fill in a great deal of information on line, most of which they already had. When I turned up I had to spend an hour answering all the same questions again to a Filipina nurse that kept having me repeat my answers because she could not remember what I had said.I questioned why this process had to be duplicated and she said that they are required to do so and she was not allowed to see what I had answered on line. There was a six form work experience girl in with us who was hoping to study medicine and she could not believe this costly inefficiency. There is mountainous inefficiency in the NHS alone which if cut out could save millions. It is every where!

  30. forthurst
    July 21, 2023

    There is a tradition that politicians work with whomsoever the civil service appoints to fulfil a particular role. There have been suggestions that the civil service itself has policies of its own which do not accord with those of the government and attempt to promote those policies at the expense of the government’s. Sometimes the government itself doesn’t know what it wants or is unclear of the implications of its policies. However, if a minster believes that the civil service is deliberately blocking government policy, he should be able to request a replacement civil servant to carry forward the government’s mandate in his department.

  31. glen cullen
    July 21, 2023

    Change public and civic employment contracts so that they can nolonger work from ‘home’

  32. glen cullen
    July 21, 2023

    Decide who’s the boss of the NHSs, is it the doctors or the administrators

  33. Christine
    July 21, 2023

    “productivity by the end of last year was lower than 25 years ago”

    And what did you politicians do around 25 years ago? You privatised as much of the public sector as you could making it massively bureaucratic and profit driven. Particularly in the IT departments which were world-leading at the time. These departments haven’t delivered much since and it’s cost taxpayers a fortune.

    Reply 25 years ago brought us a Labour government, not privatisation. The productivity collapse has been in the public services that were not privatised.m

    1. Lynn Atkinson
      July 22, 2023

      The IT departments were in chaos 25 years ago. Filled with ‘child geniuses’ who hit the keyboard as a first step. No logic flow diagrams, no maintainable programming lead to 4 usable lines of programming a day! I think it has deteriorated since then.
      The U.K. invented IT industry was snuffed out by Wilson! He exported the ‘white heat of technology’.

  34. Geoffrey Berg
    July 21, 2023

    I expect people at the start of work for the public sector and those starting work in the private sector are not originally that different in outlook (most people like to have a paid job but not work much at it). What makes them diverge are the systemic differences between the public and private sectors.
    In the private sector profit is key – without profit private sector jobs cannot survive for long. Owners and even managers tend to be paid according to results. So owners work hard to enhance their income via more profits which come mainly from efficiency, especially efficiency in managing and getting good work out of staff.
    By contrast in the public sector inefficiencies, costs and losses are all absorbed into the seemingly bottomless pit of impersonal public spending to be paid for by taxpayers. So nobody is personally too concerned about or likely to gain or lose by their personal contribution to public sector efficiency or inefficiency. On the contrary managers in the public sector are inclined to empire-build as the greater the number (regardless of inefficiency) of people they can employ and manage the greater their personal pay and prestige irrespective of the cost to the public.
    So the only real answer is to maximise the private sector and minimise the public sector.

  35. Peter Gardner
    July 22, 2023

    I cannot find any of my earlier comments. It seems they are routinely deleted. Why invite comments if you don’t want them?

  36. James Freeman
    July 22, 2023

    Here are my suggestions to improve public sector productivity:

    1. Introduce more competition into public services. Why can’t private companies perform functions like issuing passports, competing with the government service? Done correctly, it will drive productivity in the medium term. It will be better than outsourcing; if the private version is terrible, the public will vote with their feet. This approach seems to be working well, for example, with schools in England.

    2. Audit all laws and requirements placed on public bodies and outsourced service providers. Remove those that are outdated or are nice to have. Of the rest, identify those ripe for reform (for example, being made less prescriptive, allowing more innovation in service delivery).

    In particular, review all legislation from the last 20 years. Quantify how much they cost and their impact. Examples include GDPR, Freedom of Information, Equality Act, net zero, complaints procedures, and environmental and planning legislation. Include a cost-benefit analysis of the Covid response.

    3. Instruct the Civil Service to focus on improving efficiency and quality delivery as their top priorities, relegating the above.

    4. Improve how data gets interpreted by ensuring all Senior Civil servants are data literate.

    5. Ensure you use data to drive policy decisions rather than just supporting decisions already made. Date stamp the data analysis to ensure this has occurred.

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