Let me do my job – New Labour and their audit culture

March 19, 2008 at 8:24 pm | Posted in Politics | Leave a comment
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I am a very untrustworthy person you know. I am lazy and I sit on my backside at work all day, drinking tea and chatting. Well at least this is the only rational explanation I can come up with as to why I spend 50% of my time under the employ of local government having to type into a database what I am going to do with the young people I work with before I work with them, and then what I have done with them after I have done it. This then results in me spending 50% less time looking at the latest research on what works to help young people and improving what I actually do with them.

And why do I have to do this? Because the government is constantly checking to see what me and my colleagues are doing to check that we are providing ‘best value’ and are operating in the most efficient effective way. What the government fails to realise however is that by checking for best value they are ensuring that we are more inefficient and less effective.

I have recently completed government endorsed training in effective practice. The main thrust of this nine month course was that as practitioners we need to reflect on our practice and look at the latest research as to ‘What works’. Well thank you for informing me of this obvious fact and providing me with this theory on the one hand, while ensuring that I cannot do it with the other.

The thing that just makes me rock with laughter about this is that due to the governments lack of trust that we are doing a good job, it is actually breeding a whole generation of number fiddlers- people putting in these databases what the government wants to hear, rather than the reality so that they don’t have them breathing down their necks. Oh, if only it was just the sweet breath of Gordon Brown on my neck, but the reality is that perceived bad performance means cuts in funding and honest returns are the norm at the moment but I do have to wonder how long that will last.

So let’s just recap, we can’t do our jobs as well as we could because we are having to record it the whole time, which means that performance must be going down (which it is), which means that we have less money, which equates to less staff, which equates to even less time improving our practice because our caseloads increase. This only leads me to wonder whether New Labour’s audit culture is actually a subtle strategy for cutting funding without it being a blatant cut. But surely this means that eventually they are going to unravel, because everything is going to end up performing badly because they are drowning public sector workers in bureaucracy. Indications are that this might indeed be happening; one only needs to look at the education system and the NHS and the cries of teachers and medics. This is why I refuse to fiddle the figures and why the vast majority of workers refuse to- unless we tell the truth then the lunacy of this overcontrolling audit culture will not be exposed.

Don’t get me wrong. I think it is inevitable and correct that there is some monitoring of the performance of public sector agencies, after all it is the taxpayers money and they need to know they are getting a good return. However they also need to know that there is a line where the monitoring becomes counter-productive and does more damage than good. New Labour are so far over that line that they don’t know where it is.

The result is a haemorraghing of good workers who care about doing a good job, out of the public sector. There is only so long that you can stick with something that you see as being counter-productive. It is like being told to stuff your face with cakes by the slimming expert and then being told off for not losing weight. Nobody can stand such contradictions for long.

So I have one simple request. Trust us. Unless you do, then all the public sector will be left with are number fiddlers and people who don’t really care about how good a job they do, or those who started out caring but have had any last drop of care sucked out of them. This is no way to run a country.

Simon Caulkin wrote an excellent article on audit culture in 2002 for The Observer: http://www.guardian.co.uk/money/2002/may/12/madeleinebunting.business


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