Broken Britain? The latest report from the Institute for Government (IfG) certainly suggests exactly that.
Name a public service, and the IfG identifies the many different ways in which they’re underperforming.
It is easy to place the blame exclusively on one factor: cold hard cash.
But it is much, much more complex than that. Leadership, accountability and innovation are just as important.
An anecdote: one of our team here receives a three-monthly injection over two days at a London hospital. They started having this 13 years ago.
It is only this month that the scheduling process moved online. For more than a decade, scheduling has been based on a letter that is sometimes sent out, sometimes not, and often goes to a selection of former addresses.
Book a table in a London restaurant and you’ll get a text message the day before; no such system worked for these injections.
Unsurprisingly, the department responsible regularly reports missed appointments.
It’s one example, but it’s indicative of why public services have failed to become more efficient as technology has improved. And evolve those public services must do, because the demands on our most important state functions are only going to grow.
Raising taxes must be a no-no; a historically high tax burden cannot go up any further, for Britain is a long way beyond the Laffer Curve’s optimum level of taxation.
Economic growth will only fill the coffers in the long term. So again we arrive at improved management, accountability and efficiency as the only real solutions.
Unfortunately, the public sector is not exactly a fast moving, swift change organisation. Unions block innovation.
Bureaucracy slows down efficiency improvements. Private sector outsourcing is out of fashion thanks to a juvenile politician debate.
Whoever operates as the next government will need to address growing demands on the public sector and do it without raising extra cash.
It’s a challenge, no doubt, and it’s one that neither major party appears bothered to address. Sigh.