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The 'Vicious Triangle’ Affecting Productivity In Our Public Services

Two social researchers will have a strong message for policymakers next week, when they present the findings of their research at a conference in Westminster.

Professor Iain McLean and Dr Dirk Haubrich will say that local public services in England are being affected by a ‘vicious triangle’ present in the way that central government assesses performance and need. The researchers are calling for a re-examination of the ‘contradictory regimes’ which govern public sector productivity.

The pair, from Oxford University, will deliver their findings at the conference “Do You Get What You Pay For? Getting to Grips with Public Service Productivity” in Westminster on Friday 29 September. They will present their paper alongside seven other professionals with an interest in public service productivity.

McLean, who is Professor of Politics at Oxford University, says that there are contradictory elements within the systems that measure performance and need within the regimes governing local authorities. “Central Government assesses the quality of service delivery in English local authorities through the Comprehensive Performance Assessment (CPA) regime. This is true for service delivery in education, social services, housing, benefits, and leisure.”

However, the CPA does not always work together in harmony with other measurement systems.

“Government also uses what is known as an ‘index of multiple deprivation’ to assess the neediness of small areas to direct funds to them,” says McLean. “Sometimes, very similar indices appear in both an authority's CPA score and an area's index of deprivation.”

McLean illustrates the problem by explaining how school exam results influence performance measures (the CPA score) and need assessments.

“If you improve your school results, your CPA score goes up, but your funding from central government goes down. Conversely, if school results worsen, funding from central government goes up, but your CPA score goes down. Either way, you gain a (partly) financial bonus and suffer a (partly) financial penalty.”

McLean and Haubrich conclude that there is a Catch-22 type situation experienced by public service providers throughout the UK, as they try to demonstrate both productivity and need.

“The implication for central government is that there are two contradictory regimes in place, at least one of which should be abandoned or modified,” says McLean.

Annika Howard | alfa
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