« Political influences | Main | Flat refusal to stop being naive »

January 26, 2006

"Big" is not always better!

A little local debate reflects a much bigger and often less open agenda driven by the Whitehall belief that to be "efficient" every service must be "bigger". It is reflected in their belief that Fire and Rescue Services, Police Services and Hospitals - and even Doctors Surgeries - are only "efficient" if they are employing thousands, protecting millions and "serving" the political agenda which happens to be flavour of the moment. Sadly, their passion for "big" is more about centralisation of control than it is for the actual delivery of whatever service, and it usually costs twice to three times as much as the smaller units it absorbs.

The debate around my County at present is over the provision of Primary School places and schools. According to County Hall and Whitehall we have 1500 places too many and these must be cut from the provision. This means that some of the smaller schoools will have to be closed and the pupils (this is after all a rural County) bussed considerable distances from their homes to larger less personal and more intimidating schools elsewhere. Listening to the usual bunch of self important and self righteous politicos and their public servant paper shufflers, you would think that this will be good for the kids, but when pushed, they slide away from the question of who has studied the impact on small children of long journeys too and from schools and the need to cope with the stress of being a long way from their parents if hurt, sick or otherwise in need of care?

One woman on the radio today argued that this was not a problem - until it was pointed out rather forcefully by a parent that the bulk of the parents at the school they were planning to close did not have cars and would be unable to fetch their kids from the proposed enlarged school some twelve miles away! Then she self righteously declared that this was not a problem the County Education Authority needed to consider, it was one for the Transport Committee and the parents to work out.

The fact is that these "super schools" are very much part of the problem when it comes to indiscipline, truancy and failing education standards. When you look at the best performing schools you soon realise that there is a correlation between pupil numbers, teacher to pupil ratio and the total number of students in the school! Looking back at my past I realise that I was lucky to have gone to a school where the total number of pupils was a little over 600 - in buildings designed for 250 admittedly - and the Masters knew all the students. They may not have known our individual names (the class Masters certainly did!) but they certainly knew all our faces and it was not unusual to be pulled up in the street even out of uniform (yes, we wore those too!) by a passing Master if you were behaving badly or inappropriately. That was the secret, they knew who we were, they knew our parents, they knew where we lived and they cared. That link vanishes swiftly as soon as a school exceeds around 700 pupils and once it exceeds 1,000 the teachers haven't a hope of knowing all the children. That has certainly been my experience and observation of the schools my own children have had to attend courtesy the ideological mess the politicians and civil servants have made of the education system. It would be really interesting to see the results of a major study on this topic, I rather suspect it would require a major change of thinking to address the probably outcomes!

Having worked in organisations whose employees number thousands, and others delivering the same service, whose employees numbered hundreds, I can say categorically that the smaller organisations are always operationally more efficient than the large ones. This is, quite simply, because the communication chains are shorter and more direct, the operational information is circulated much faster, problems are identified and dealt with quickly and there is nowhere to hide or room for "empire" building. Managers manage in small organisations, they cannot hide in committees and meetings and when they delegate something they are able to communicate it directly to someone and get immediate feedback rather than having to do it through a committee and then listen to hours of excuses and debate as the goal posts shift in accordance with whoever's empire is being threatened by the work required. The so-called "efficiencies of scale" are a myth, no money is saved by going into a super organisation, in fact the opposite, the "economies" turn out to be vastly more expensive.

As I said at the beginning of this piece, the only advantage of a "big" organisation is that it concentrates all power for decision making in a small number of people at the centre. Power is removed from a "local" level and people are unable to communicate with the "management" or to influence any change of culture, direction or improvement. Even the supposed "devolved responsibilities" are so restricted that they are not "devolved" powers at all. Look about you at the waste in Whitehall, the corruption that lurks beneath the surface as incompetents waste money, divert resources or simply cover up the failures. One prime example is the "Preferred Tenderer" system of awarding contracts which by-passes the tendering process altogether. The theory is simple, choose a supplier from the "Preferred Tenderer" list supplied by HM Treasury and you do not need to go through the tender process, you can accept whatever bid is offered and, if the budget is available, spend the money. The only wriggle is that the "Preferred Tenderer's" price is usually around 20% higher than what would have been obtained on open tender. Nice little earner if you can get on the list - but that is another story! Perhaps now you see why we all need to say a very firm NO to any further centralisation on any front! Particularly when it comes to depriving communities of a school, a hospital or a police station. Everything the Civil Servants and their appointees touch immediately costs far more and delivers less!

Local people and local services are far more efficient and - in the long term less costly - than the dwellers in Whitehall, Westminster and many County Halls will admit. The real problem is that they cannot control them - and they hate that!

Posted by The Gray Monk at January 26, 2006 05:17 PM

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this entry:


You missed one ponit about centalization, that is ease of indoctranation. That is why the USA only has a few selected sites for Basic training for the military. By bringing everyone to the same training schools you can ensure that the message you want is put out with little filtering. Just like too many cooks spoil the broth, too many teachers corrupt the goverenment message.

Posted by: skipjack at January 28, 2006 04:07 AM

Post a comment

Remember Me?