I see your scaffolding and I raise you a bus

For those into Liberal Democrat policy, hearing that David Boyle is going to write a post in response to one of your own is reason for mixing pleasure, apprehension and anticipation. What will he say? Will it be agreement? Will it be the polite highlighting of a fatal flaw? And will he manage to work in more plugs for his excellent book that you have for yours?

David’s taken to the keyboard to reply to my post about scaffolding, and what the frequent scaffolding outside my home says about public services:

There’s much I could write about the things that have gone wrong, starting with just how many times do you have to come and repair a roof? There’s the fun of the fiasco when the council nearly had two different scaffolding firms turn up at the same time to put scaffolding in the same place. Or the casual arrogance and absurd secrecy of the gagging order I was presented on one occasion.

But the issue with the widest implications is the number of months that scaffolding has been left standing outside the house, unused week after week, both during times of Gordon Brown largesse and during times of George Osborne austerity. Scaffolding isn’t cheap. So why has an expensive asset been left unused outside my home for so long in total over the years? (Keen as I am on infrastructure investment, ‘a scaffold for every home’ isn’t an election slogan I’ll be running any time soon.)

You can read my post in full here, but if you do make sure you also read David’s response, making use of his experience of two local bus routes:

We know from personal experience that there are knock-on human effects when systems get bigger. We have all stood behind an elderly customer at the supermarket checkout trying to chat with the cashier about the weather – just as she used to when the small shop was there – while the queue behind taps its collective feet. We know what happens when organisations are too big: the systems take over.

We know, in fact that organisations built on an inhuman scale, with their inhuman architecture, and terrifying marble lobbies, don’t find it so easy to provide the kind of simple regime that allows human beings to make things happen. That is why, if we want our organisations to work more effectively, we have to end the tendency of all of them to strive towards empire…

The solution?  Much smaller units, less hierarchy, people who can build relationships with those they are supporting and, above all, simpler systems so that staff can not just feel responsible for the costs of scaffolding abandoned for years – but actually do something about it.

The full piece is over on his blog, include a powerful three-point diagnosis of what needs fixing with our public services.

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