Unions and government are both wrong about cuts

Yesterday at the Trades Union Congress (TUC) conference, Ed Miliband, the leader of the Labour Party, got heckled when he suggested that the strikes in June shouldn’t have happened while negotiations with the government were still in progress. Those strikes were about pensions but there is talk of much larger strikes about cuts in the coming months. So we could argue about the relative merits of strikes versus negotiating, or cuts versus investment.

However, the problem is deeper than cuts to budgets. The problem is that the government, the Labour party and the unions are still stuck in the model that says cuts to budgets means cuts to services which in turn leads to negotiations or strikes to fight those cuts.

We need to step back and challenge the assumption that cuts in budget require cuts in services. In fact the opposite is true. Improving services is the only true, reliable and sustainable way to reduce budgets.

Many services are full of waste, delay and errors. It is not because staff aren’t trying hard. As W. Edwards Deming said, “We are being ruined by best efforts.” The problem is that we don’t manage services as systems so trying hard to optimise one corner of the public sector will sub-optimise the service to the public as a whole.

In place of negotiating or striking about this cut or that cut, unions, management, staff and government need to work first on improving services to remove the costs that litter processes. This will bring them together to work on the problem of providing better value to the public instead of fighting about how to remove value altogether.



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