The view from: Colin Talbot, Professor of Public Policy and Management, Manchester Business School.
Are you confident in the Government’s approach to public sector management reform, as outlined in the Open Public Services white paper?
Not at all, on several levels. First, the process of policy-making has been too rushed. Second, implementation plans are if anything even more tight and less thought through. And third the whole direction of policy is determined by ideas, or ideology, rather than evidence of what actually works. Even in ‘normal’ times that’s a recipe for disaster – in the context of radical cuts, it’s potentially catastrophic.
What approach should be taken to public sector management reform?
A more genuinely pragmatic and realistic one. It is true that in some areas introducing competition and mixed provision might work, but in others it can prove disastrous – Southern Cross springs to mind. And just like PFI – which this government is rightly critical of – creating ‘markets’ where some players are ‘too big to fail’ is just playing at shops, at the taxpayers’ and users’ ultimate cost.
What role should accountants and financial managers play?
In Whitehall there has been some improvement in their role, but too many policy decisions are still taken that are financial analysis free zones. Look at the farce around the Audit Commission abolition, or the wider ‘savings’ from the bonfire of quangos. There may be more professional finance people in senior finance roles, but in central government they are not taken seriously enough.
If you weren’t an academic specializing in public sector management, what might have you been?
I already have been lots of other things – including a lab technician, telecoms engineer, trade union organizer, local government officer. I love what I do now, but if there’s one thing I would have wanted to be, it’s an astronaut. I can remember looking at the full moon in 1969 and marvelling that they were actually up there. And it shows what the public sector can do when it gets it right!
Governments and Parliaments advised: 13
Countries in which conferences addressed: over 24