I’ve just come across a powerful piece by John Seddon this week on the Guardian’s Comment is Free website. It’s a critique of the recent call by the head of the Audit Commission for public sector cuts, which makes the point that the audit regime is part of the problem, not the answer. Although I don’t have the expertise to comment on what goes on in the rest of the public sector, the philosophy of audit by which schools are held to account through narrow statistical measures is clearly hugely dysfunctional. I’ve also been reading Seddon’s book calling for a saner approach to public sector management, which is powerful.
Perhaps equally revealing, however, are the comments made by readers of Comment is Free after Seddon’s piece, which provide fascinating/disturbing insights into what has been going wrong with the way the public sector is managed by the government.
Some of the comments also mention Simon Caulkin’s hugely insightful but now sadly departed column in the Observer on management, which made detailed and knowledgeable criticisms of how both private and public organisations can turn out to operate on such a dysfunctional model which seems to be based more on dogma than on any real understanding of how they might operate more effectively, and more humanely. A couple of his columns are here (mainly about Seddon’s book) and here (the latter being, unfortunately, his final one).
I was one of many signatories of a recent letter to the Observer trying to persuade the paper to change its mind and bring back Simon’s column, but sadly to no avail. Journalism is the poorer for that, I believe, as this was one of the few examples of writing which actually got to grips with the reality of how many people’s working lives are managed.