Oflog’s approach is delusional
This article first appeared in the LGC briefing.
Devoid of a transformational vision, Oflog will fail to improve performance, writes Adam Lent.
Of all the questions raised about the Office for Local Government (Oflog) in recent weeks, the most important must be whether it will actually prevent failure, raise performance and hence improve outcomes for people and places. Sadly, the answer is almost certainly no.
Oflog’s approach is so devoid of any strategic or historical context that it borders on the dishonest. The founding policy paper makes no mention of ongoing spending cuts, rapidly rising demand pressures, shrinking workforces or deepening inequalities. Any regulatory institution that begins its life by implicitly pretending these factors have no impact on performance is setting itself up to fail. The notion that all that is needed under such straitened conditions is for councils to be offered some data benchmarking and a public ticking off when things go wrong is delusional.
Oflog’s approach is so devoid of any strategic or historical context that it borders on the dishonest.
The blame for this strategic myopia lies not with the officials who have set up Oflog but with the Westminster politicians who have failed to develop a new, relevant strategic vision for the future of local government and the wider public sector. Unwilling to openly confront the era-defining challenges in any coherent way, the political class is reduced to launching disconnected, ad hoc initiatives – of which Oflog is but one more.
If ministers are genuinely interested in performance improvement, their starting point should not be to sit in a Whitehall policy brainstorm but to get out onto the frontline of local government. There they can experience a world of innovation as the people who actually deliver services undertake radical but necessary change. Ministers would begin to see that a new vision for the future of services is emerging right under their noses. One focused on a wholesale shift to prevention based on the empowerment of communities and the public sector workforce.
If ministers are genuinely interested in performance improvement, their starting point should not be to sit in a Whitehall policy brainstorm but to get out onto the frontline of local government.
Rather than chasing cheap headlines by stifling innovation such as four-day week pilots, ministers should see themselves as the champions of profound change and the defenders of those experimenting with that change. A top down inspectorate risks running totally counter to this ethos. Holding councils to nationally determined output measures with public shame for those who fail can end up reinforcing a safety-first mindset which means, in practice, sticking with an unsustainable status quo. An outcome that ironically increases the chances of poor performance and failure.
Reimagine Oflog as a force for strategic change and it might actually have a chance of generating the improvements it claims to want. A national body that aimed to drive performance-enhancing transformation would be one relevant to the challenges of our time, and ultimately a true friend to both local services and the people who rely on them.
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