Better Government at Less Cost.

Government accounts set out in accordance with standard business practices,
welfare services separated-off for individual review,
expenditures not essential to good governance eliminated,
and the rest subjected to strict measures of cost versus achievement.

                                  

                                  

 

Government:
Disciplined and Productive

Debt and Decline

Governments are among the most wasteful, the least productive of any organization yet devised by man. Although this is now becoming apparent to an increasingly disillusioned public, the criticism is not as harsh as it may sound, and is certainly not intended as a reflection on individual elected members or government servants. It is simply an observation of human nature. If we’re not under pressure, it’s easy to let things slip.

Throughout private sector business and industry, managements are under constant pressure to remain competitive. They cannot afford to let quality slip, to miss an opportunity to improve productivity, or to fill a new market need. No one accepts pressure through choice. The need arises only because competition can overtake a business, even cause its demise.

Monopolies do not suffer such pressures, so it is easy for service standards to stagnate or fall back. Yet there is an escape route for dissatisfied customers: you can always opt out. If your electricity supplier really annoys you, close the account and light your home with oil lamps. Inconvenient perhaps, but the option remains, for though a monopoly supplier, your power company cannot require you to use its services. It is not an enforced monopoly.

It is in this respect that Government stands alone. Government is not only a monopoly, it is unique in being an enforced monopoly, there is no option to reject it, and refusal to pay its taxes will land you in prison.

The simple result is that taxes and debts slide slowly upwards, services remain stagnant or decline, and government departments proliferate. Periodically government finances reach a level of indebtedness which requires urgent and drastic action if disaster is to be averted. When this happens, governments give us two choices: higher taxes, or lower standards of service. Or most probably, both.

So “programmed” are the good citizens, so constantly fed with these two options as being the only options, we never think of expecting government to meet, and to subject itself to, the same standards existing throughout the “real” world of commerce.

Unknown in government circles is the “P” word – Productivity – the concept of striving continuously to give a better service at less cost, a concept taken for granted throughout the business world. So the burden of government, its size and its cost, steadily increases, while service quality stagnates or deteriorates.


Confronting the “P” word

Quality, Productivity, and Service –
three words not normally associated with Government.

If these ideals are to be applied effectively, the whole process of Government must be subjected to a three-step review.

First, every department, every process of government, every committee and quango must be shown to be directly and substantially contributive to the wellbeing of the country, and its citizens who pay for it. Those which fail must be axed. Ruthlessly eliminate the grants, projects, pseudo-government appendages… anything not directly essential to the good governance of the nation. Be ready to question the current usefulness of departments set up long ago and hanging on out of tradition and nostalgia – or simply lack of serious questioning.

Second, subject what remains to an outside professional time-and-motion study. Identify the objectives of each department, institute a measure of its success or failure, then ensure that it meets and exceeds its targets with the maximum efficiency and the minimum of expenditure through continuous monitoring.

Third, in a similar way, the interface and inter-action between government agencies on the one hand, with citizens, business and industry on the other should also be subject to review in order to ensure elimination of unnecessary regulation, and the maximum clarity and simplicity of those requirements and processes remaining. Governments should seek to minimize needless regulations – “red tape” which burdens business activity.

Government must be subject to the same rules and disciplines as private-sector business and industry, ensuring that it fulfils its functions as efficiently and as cost-effectively as possible with continuously rising productivity, public disclosure and accountability. Clear job descriptions and benchmarks for each department allow for accurate assessment of performance.

Many existing government departments and programs would inevitably be abandoned as being non-essential, while each of those remaining would be required to state clearly what it is doing, what it is costing, and the extent to which it is fulfilling its stated objectives productively.

Government is a service to its consumers and as such should be subject to the strictest possible commercial disciplines; its performance should be at least as good as and preferably better than any in the private sector. Any Commercial Legislation relating to accounting, standards, productivity or quality of Private Sector business and commerce should immediately and automatically apply to any and all functions of Government.

Such and similar measures would no doubt reduce taxes and increase service quality quite rapidly. But how will they come about? Discipline and regulation are required in large measure, but no institution, least of all Government, can be trusted to discipline itself.


Governing Government

The people’s assurance of Good Government can best be secured by independent outside agencies, a prime example being total freedom of the press and all forms of communication media with every encouragement for them to research and publicize all acts of government. A major firm of internationally recognized accountants should be commissioned to put government’s accounts on a standard business footing, with every detail online, down to the last penny. Transparency is the first line of defence against waste.

Good Government can also be reinforced by allowing independent outside (private sector) agencies full access in checking government accounts, assessing government departmental productivity and the remunerations of government staff, as well as ensuring full transparency, checking for honesty and possible corruption.

Outside discipline is already imposed by the independent Bond Rating Agencies which rate the credit-worthiness of governments, thus directly influencing the interest rates governments are obliged to pay on new debt issues and indirectly forcing remedial measures.

Sensing an injury to their pride and limitation on their freedom of action, governments may well claim that being subject to such outside agencies creates a conflict with democratic principles. To the contrary. Requiring that government must account for every penny taken and spent, by ensuring that government and its dependent infrastructural services deliver the best possible product at the lowest possible cost, and by ensuring that government does not pay itself more than its private-sector equivalents, is entirely compatible with the interests of “the people” who must pay the cost and who if specifically consulted would no doubt enthusiastically approve. And the more agencies of whatever kind or source checking up on every aspect of governance, the better government will be.

Another source of pressure might be found in a new international organization The Open Government Partnership whose influence and peer pressure could be used to ensure that “window-dressing” promises are actually brought to fruition.

While the Magna Carta is revered and respected as being the ‘grand-daddy’ of constitutions, and while it is studied, analyzed, and to a large degree copied, a fact rarely considered is that the Magna Carta was ‘consumer-driven’.

The King did not write a constitution in which a few crumbs of monarchial self-discipline graciously thrown to the public were greatly outweighed by his own rights and privileges. It was the barons, nobles and clergy who, as objects of the king’s whims and the taxpayers who funded them, drew up the Great Charter and compelled the King by force of arms to agree to it.

The motivation to improve government efficiency and standards of business conduct is unlikely to come from inside government itself, and even if it does, the disciplines thus created are likely to be more cosmetic than real. Governments frequently pay lip-service to improving productivity and financial discipline, but seldom make any real changes. Self discipline is a noble ideal, but it rarely if ever comes about.

                                  

                                  

                                  

                                  

                                  

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