Public service efficiency: why crash diets aren’t the answer

Many a serial dieter has probably thought: “The only way I am going to lose 20% of my body weight is if you cut one of my legs off!”. It seems that, with all the talk of ‘slimming down’ the civil service, this rather extreme measure might be finding some parallels: we face the very real challenge of how to slim down without serious loss of function.

We do not want to enter the political debate about how large or small government should be or what services should be compressed into a shared service, outsourced or simply cut altogether. Our argument is that, however dramatic the changes might be in these areas, they are working at the margins and not on the main body.

According to the Office of National Statistics, there are close to a quarter of a million AO or AA-grade civil servants, most of whom are delivering front-line services in tax, welfare and pensions. So we have to ask: “Is it possible to help the main body to become slimmer, while allowing it to still carry out all the basic functions required of it?”.

In this article we outline the strong evidence that weight loss, without loss of function, is possible, but will not be achieved by the organisational equivalent of starvation dieting (cutting budgets). Instead, it will be achieved by a change of lifestyle—changing the way we manage—and giving managers new skills and tools.

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