Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Austerity plans & budgets: who has the ideas?

In anticipation of the Comprehensive Spending Review outcomes, nearly all public service budget holders will now be taking a long hard look at where the money gets spent and what is achieved. I can almost hear the distant clicks of numerous hatches being battened down.

Less money, probably a lot less money is going to be spent on not only on the 'frippery' of change management, organisational development and public engagement (etc.), but also on the wages of people providing direct services to some very vulnerable citizens.

Whilst there may well be very limited room for manoeuvre with the amount by which budgets will have to be reduced in these austere times, I am wondering just how much scope there is in just how budgets are reshaped.

Who has the ideas? Who needs to be involved? How will those people be involved?

I am concerned that many managers will feel driven to retreat behind closed doors, perhaps with a tame accountant, to craft the changes to be made. This is not an unreasonable course of action, of course. If people's jobs & indeed livelihoods are being questioned, if services to people in severe need are being scrutinised or if some critical priorities are being examined then confidentiality is to be expected.

The stakes are so high and the interests so potentially in great conflict, as to prevent anyone else (staff member, other connected departments & agencies, the wider public & service users) being involved in a more open & transparent discussion... would be the argument from many people, I suspect.

I have argued previously on this blog for 'Austerity Charters' (see below) and I stand by this.

But, am I alone in thinking that there is much to be gained from having more inclusive approaches to deciding just where and how budgets should be cut? I take the view, that given the right context, the right leadership and the right information, many more people could contribute constructively to building these new austere budgets. Yes, there will be conflict and yes, people will seek to express and protect their interests. But also, I think, people could earnestly, collaboratively and creatively find many more ways to do more with less than a manager (with tame accountant) is able to achieve on their own.

Or am I living in some fairytale world a million miles away from the grinding & crushing reality of austerity budgets where the only 'involvement' of staff, colleagues and citizens must only be during the titular 'consultation' periods?  

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