Research from management consultants Knox D'Arcy finds that junior staff in local government 'lose' up to 68 per cent of the day, mostly down to poor supervision by managers. This is a huge amount of time and is of course wholly unproductive. The report also said that managers can spend as little as 3 per cent of their time on 'active' management - asking for a little more interaction with their staff wouldn't exactly turn them into micro-managing nightmares, you feel.
We should add a caveat: there are of course many staff working in local authorities that are talented and conscientious. But what the findings show is that local government can provide more for less. Of course, council staff will say that they are bound by red tape and burdened with statutory requirements - and too often they are. Hopefully moves towards genuine localism will help to shed such constraints. But there is no doubt poor performance at all levels has to challenged - particularly as councils will be dealing with tighter budgets. As Paul Weekes, principal consultant at Knox D’Arcy said:
"Changing the management style in councils is going to be vital to improving performance if cuts to frontline services are to be avoided, given the inevitable redundancies over the coming two years. This means a significant cultural change, with a much more active management style needed, combined with better management control systems and more individual accountability for performance."
Harry Phibbs over at ConservativeHome has put the findings into hypothetical examples:
- In a 30,000 person county council, if utilisation rates went from 32 per cent to 44 per cent the same work could be done by approximately 22,000 staff (8,000 fewer), a staff reduction of 27 per cent
- The UK's local authorities spend over £113 billion on day-to-day services - over a quarter of all public expenditure. They employ over 2.1 million people and deliver 700 different services. In theory, if the utilisation rate of all employees went from 32 per cent to a modest 44 per cent, the same services could be provided by 1.53 million staff (more than half-a-million fewer)