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Government is not the same thing as a business, and should never be run like it is one

AU491810_942longThe word ‘business’ conjures up different meanings for different people, depending on their background and of course what exposure they may have had to its use or application.

Most will agree that its use as a term suggests enterprise and methods of working which would sit snugly within a commercial environment. But should this word actually be applied to the modus operandi of any form of Government when the two terms are completely incongruous?

Much is made of the idea that the best people to run Government at any level are those who have a business background. One of the current arguments against the demographic makeup of our MP’s today is the substantial lack of solid business experience possessed by those who lead the Country from Westminster, with the accompanying notion that MP’s who have run or owned businesses of their own would somehow automatically have an almost esoteric level of understanding and midas touch which would solve just about any problem. They wouldn’t; they don’t and they never have.

With years of Local Government experience as both an Elected Member, an Officer and from working within 3rd Sector Organisations alongside, I have also often heard the term ‘business case’, ‘business plan’ and the idea often suggested that Councils are now run ‘like a business’ in meetings.

The problem with this is of course that the political leadership and members of Councils rarely have ‘hands on’ experience of running any kind of business you could draw reasonable parallels with themselves, and when they do, it is often the case that it has been so long since they did so, that any lack of an appreciation that time moves on or that things continually change will soon erode any tangible benefit.

Perhaps worse is the ability that Officers and Civil Servants have been gifted by political demographics and the opportunity to use such terms in plans, which are then taken as read by those who simply don’t know any better as being a true ‘business case’, when such ‘business’ cases could never be any such thing.

Recognising the differences between running a business in its purest sense, and running Government under the delusion that it can be run as business has never been more essential for today’s politicians, because neither Central or Local Government are businesses, and the people running them have to stop believing and behaving like they are.

A business is of course run for the profit of an individual or shareholders. All decisions will normally be made with the form of pay-off that they will receive firmly in mind. It can be expanded or changed to meet the demands of customers as it sees fit, and a business can choose which customers it may wish to target and how much profit it will seek from delivering any particular product or service. Its revenues are never guaranteed.

On the other hand, Government does not run to make profit, but to provide services and support for all those which it has been elected to serve.

Run properly, Government would not actively target any particular group of customers to provide a different quality of service depending on the feedback or profit that it gets from that group, and would work to meet demand for services as best and prudently as it can, well knowing that it has a duty to do so without seeking payment from one customer to pay for the benefits of another, or to irresponsibly borrow money from lenders that it knows it doesn’t have the appropriate levels of revenue to comfortably repay.

However, Government revenues – as long as they remain sensible – will always be guaranteed, and it is with this significant difference that come the even greater levels of responsibility than no one business should ever realistically be able to have.

One of the greatest dangers facing us as a society comes from the fact that politicians at all levels of Government have either failed to recognise these basic differences and therefore maintain them, or have willingly abused their ability to raise revenues to cover badly managed services or implement policies without any due regard to striking the balance for every member of this society or in applying fairness to all, while they have given every thought to political expedience and electability.

The British political system is broken, because it has adopted those very same values of a profit-making business, which are to further the interests of that business. For politicians, this comes in the form of power, whilst they have ignored the basic rule of business as they have done so; the rule which states they must deliver profit to every single one of the shareholders rather than to themselves. Profit in this sense should always be seen as the delivery of the same results for all.

So if our politicians really feel that they have to treat Government like a business, they then must also realise that if they continue to keep raising the fees on the same old products time and again without offering new products and value for money, they will soon price their offerings way beyond the purse of the people who normally pay, and the cash will soon start ceasing to flow.

Government is not run for a financial profit, any more than it should ever be so for the bottom-line benefit of just the ‘staff’.

Whatever their backgrounds, experience and level, politicians must remember that they are the managers; the facilitators; the decision makers; not the beneficiaries themselves – and especially so where the end profit is not even perceptively the same as what it would be for a business.

The time has long since passed when the electorate could continue to live decent lives, whilst those within Government continue to focus on the end result for themselves. Government is not the same thing as a business, and should never be run like it is one.

Councillors’ Pay: Throwing money at more of the same just increases the odds of things going from bad to even worse

January 10, 2013 Leave a comment

If you feel at all cynical about politicians and their motives for seeking power, you are unlikely to have been left feeling refreshed by the latest row over councillors’ pay which has surfaced this morning. After all, one set of politicians laying out the stall to put more money into the pockets of another is hardly the story that anyone outside of politics wants to hear. But is the promise of higher pay for councillors really the only answer to better local government?

The motives for becoming a politician at any level are not what many would hope or perhaps expect. Whilst the pathway to becoming a member of a local authority may be based upon an entirely different set of aspirations from those who become MP’s, the biggest difference between the two is the full-time and fully remunerated nature of all the roles in Westminster which have propagated and supported the rise of the ‘career politician’.

As a Local Councillor myself, I can look back on my own political history to date and know that it was not money which motivated me to contest my first Borough Election in 2003 and come 5th for a 2-seat Ward. It was not looking good and being seen by others as having responsibility in a public role which drove me to take part in the County Elections of 2005 and experience a recount to finish in 3rd place for a 2-seat Division. But it was a belief in something better for all and the sense of providing a voice for those who choose not or are unable to do so for themselves that did push me to go out each time and then win my first Borough Seat in 2007. Sadly it is not the same for all too many others.

The reality of local government, whether you are Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat, UKIP or Independent, is that it is a place of frustration for the well-intended. A place where the power to influence decision making in its greatest sense simply doesn’t exist – much in the same way that the handful of our better-intentioned MP’s will have discovered to their absolute horror when they first arrived in Parliament.

It is a cold hard fact that within any system of government where so many of the would-be decision makers have arrived on the basis of personal gain and advancement, it is that very same emotional buy-in which propelled them there that prevents them and others from doing anything truly selfless when it has even the slightest risk of making those selfishly-based positions any less secure.

Such fear has propagated the growth of an insidious culture within local government where officers are often left leading the leaders with their own protectionist based views which put jobs, conditions and the limitation of all risks above any decision which actually may be the right one for the Taxpayers who fund them. It is a pathway which over many years has led to the unsustainable cost of direct services that should never have even been put at risk; coupled to a future which above all else is inextricably linked to such wonders as the bottomless pit which is the Local Government Pension Scheme.

Increasing councillors ‘pay’ to ‘realistic levels’, will only encourage more of those with the same self-interest to step forward and to then fight even harder to protect their own interests once elected. Part-time career politicians would quickly become as prevalent throughout the lower tiers of government as their full time counterparts are at Westminster, and it is the very term ‘career’ which in this sense says so very much about what is wrong with politics and where the true motives of many politicians lie today.

Reform at all levels of government should be an absolute priority, but should not be restricted to executive, administrative or technical functions.

The political party system is also failing people as much locally as it is nationally and throwing money at more of the same just increases the odds of things going from bad to even worse.

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