You and whose Broom Army?

Vigilante cleaners take the law into their own hands and decide to show BVPI195(a) & (b) a jolly good kicking

Are you going to clean up the mess the Audit Commission has left behind? The AC aren’t, so who is?

They left behind a terrible legacy in the public sector, destructive ideas around plans, targets, standards and all the paraphernalia of a command and control lifestyle.

It’s like when the circus parade has been through town, but without the man at the very end with a dust pan and broom to sweep up the elephant crap. All that’s left is crap.

Show us yer KPIs! Come on! I aint got all day!

Worse, the scale of the damage to the delivery of public services is at least equivalent to the London riots of 2011. The riots cost an estimated £133m to the taxpayer.

In 2009-10 the AC used up £213m of public money. Almost twice as much as was burned, looted and broken in the riots. But at least that only happened the once.

Much worse is the lasting damage caused by the AC’s activities over the years.
From 1998  to 2010 it carried out inspections on Local Authorities, NHS and Fire & rescue services.  It issued guidance on managing these organisations including such gems as:

“Users of performance information include:

  • service users: direct (visitors at the library, passport applicants or patients) and indirect (relatives and parents);
  • the general public, including interest groups and the media;
  • central government;
  • politicians (local and central),local councillors and non-executive directors of trusts and health authorities;
  • auditors and inspectors;
  • managers at all levels in the organisation;
  • and staff. [link]

Got that? Managers second last, staff very last. But above them both, bloody auditors.  Somehow customers would use them. Christ knows how. But of course they wouldn’t. The idea of “using” performance information is left nicely vague, my cat could probably “use” it by batting it around like a dying mouse.

When the CPA regime was halted, inspection stopped. The thinking that was inspected into services didn’t though.  This sort of thinking is still around, taking away the punishment machine won’t put something better in its place. It just leaves a gap.

They were able to remove the burnt out cars, but removing the thinking takes more than a pick-up truck

Nature abhors a vacuum and the gap is being filled by the nearest to the old inspection regime as can be done. There is this shit for a start. People are rushing to try and replicate what the AC did, the Local Government Association has started some balls called “sector led self improvement” with, amongst other things,  “a ‘corporate’ peer challenge” of managers from other authorities having nice chats and being managerial, talking to each other about “leadership capacity” through evaluation reports. And we know there’s nothing that gets knowledge faster than  managers speaking at each other through documents.

It’s like after the London riots if another crowd of slightly lesser, crapper rioters appeared to mussy up the remains. Perhaps threw some crisp packets around, dropped a few sweet wrappers.

After the actual London riots, this happened.

Yes, the same photo as at the top. This time, some context

A crowd of people spontaneously appeared to sweep up and get rid of all the debris, helping get the streets back to normal.  They brought their own brooms. They didn’t copy the actual public services by wearing yellow safety jackets and stopping for a brew at 11am.

Instead a spontaneous taking action. Doing what was needed to get things back to normal. Nothing official about this at all. The gap left by the riots was filled by a ordinary reaction of ordinary people to do something ordinary. Sweep the streets.

This is what’s needed now, not “sector led improvement”, repeating the mistakes of the past won’t work. It’s pathetic and sad. Instead do something spontaneous. Go get some knowledge! Take a manager to get some knowledge! Do some guerilla knowledge getting! Get some data, better yet get dangerous data. The best sort. Try these things:

  • if you work in customer services, write down what the next 20 people come in for. Categorise them into value and failure demands, write it down, bake into a cake nicely and deliver it by hand to the Chief Exec.
  • bake a cake regardless, give a slice to every person on your team who will promise to ask their next customer “yes, but what do you really want us to help you with?”
  • bake a cake and eat it whilst reading Deming’s “The new economics”. Use the lessons within to get yourself elected as local councillor and ask some mean questions.
  • bake a cake and eat it. Just that. Anything is better than that “sector led improvement” nonsense.

Whatever happens seize the moment as there is a moment right now. Not just an absence of the AC, but Lots Less Money. People are being forced to change. I always remember, when I used to be lean, a phrase in a list of some “lean action plan” that I wrote down excitedly in pencil in the back of my book. Step 3, “find a lever by seizing a crises”.

It would be a pity to waste such a good crises.

Goodbye Audit Commission. Never come back.


Turns out the AC aren’t dead and buried. They somehow still live! There’s a clever thing called that you can stick on your WordPress blog and it will log visits. Below is a screenshot.  Look who was up early this morning…

Thanks for the views guys, they all count!

This entry was posted in command and control, public sector and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to You and whose Broom Army?

  1. Mate, you’re a legend. You can’t keep producing material like this – it’s just not fair!


  2. ThinkPurpose says:

    It’s the drugs. Hard, hard drugs.


  3. Malcolm Gardner says:

    I am not a great fan of the audit commission but l am struggling to find much in the way of substance in this article to condemn them. I guess this is an opinion piece and it is smartly written. However, it reminded me a bit of reading an audit commission inspection report. Biased and pointless but does identify some weaknesses in the organisation.


    • ThinkPurpose says:

      Thanks for the comment, and so early in the morning too!

      This piece assumes something, that we already know they mucked up, eg the type of management principles they inspected for, the sheer fact that they inspected for management principles AT ALL.
      It takes for granted that bit. There are plenty of better researched and argued pieces elsewhere about that, have been for ages, and my intent wasn’t to rehash that argument.
      Instead it’s “what now?” and “do something different”.


  4. Pingback: Your cheatsheet for why league tables are total balls | thinkpurpose

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