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In December one of Scotland’s major local authorities circulated its staff with an appeal to “Share your BOLD ideas”.
Staff were reminded that “we need to make significant savings and deliver better services with fewer resources. As demand for our services grows, we need to look closely at the way we operate so that we can achieve Better Outcomes through Leaner Delivery (BOLD).”
It should have been obvious that an acronym was coming, one which projected a vision which was the polar opposite of the set of ideas and objectives which underpinned it!
The missive continued to stress that the particular council needed to reduce spending by 8 per cent, £327 million over the next four years. The BOLD team is being led by the Council’s Chief Executive and its Director of Corporate Governance, (Now there’s a title redolent of the Ministry of Truth!) with representatives from each service area and it promised that ideas and suggestions could be treated anonymously.
Anonymity will certainly be essential for those advocating further cuts. If those willing to make such suggestions were to name themselves, social isolation in the workplace would be the least of the consequences.
The circular offered staff various BOLD ideas which had already been generated, including the removal of individual departmental budget control as a way to get rid of ‘silo’ thinking and the creation of a Council-wide booking system to maximise income for our venues.
These are precisely the centralising managerial tendencies which have robbed local schools and other resources of the capacity to manage their local budgets creatively but with due regard to the needs of the service and local communities which they serve. The centralising of finance and HR systems by the council robbed schools of the educationally-knowledgeable finance and HR staff. It saw teaching jobs advertised in the middle of school holidays by generic HR staff, ignorant of how education works.
It is a supreme irony that the new managerial culture reiterates the savings rhetoric but adds bureaucratic inefficiency to the base cost of services.
At the same time savings are being implemented in ways which impact directly on both teachers’ workloads and on learning. Larry Flanagan of the EIS has described bureaucracy as “the dead hand lying on top of Curriculum for Excellence”.
It should be stressed, from what I hear from colleagues, certainly across the central belt, that these experiences are near ubiquitous. At one level it is no wonder, given the now long-standing council tax freeze, that local authorities are being squeezed until the pips squeak. Such cuts may be inevitable. (I do not believe so. There are better ways of organising an economy and of organising public expenditure.) Even if they are inevitable however, is it necessary to dress them in such dishonest language: Better Outcomes through Leaner Delivery? Where did ‘leaner’ delivery ever lead to better outcomes?
What is happening is that staff in schools are becoming drained. Those who can retire are getting out. Those who can wind down are doing so. Management is stretched to the limit. Classroom teachers are running hard to stand still. Teachers are not of course unique in feeling the pressures. That is the experience across the public and private sectors and in the public sector generally there have at least been no compulsory redundancies.
If 2014 is to be better than 2013, if morale in education is to be boosted, budgets need boosting and bureaucracy needs drastic pruning. If these reforms are beyond the capacity of the system, may we at least have honest, straight-forward language?

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