administrative reform


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bids, public services and short stories

Posted by publicadminreform on June 30, 2011 at 7:22 AM Comments comments (6)

I'm blogging here because there seems a technical problem with my normal site - and I hate to disappoint my readers - who I hope have the gumption to try here after they notice the abnormal gap in posting. I'v e been working for thr last week or so on a bid for a project. I hate this stage when one is trying to construct a convincing statement about HOW one would carry out the various required activities of a project. I don’t find writing difficult – I’ve had long practice and the results are there to see on the website and blog.

But two aspects about writing proposals I fiind deeply frustrating and indeed alienating. First that one is generally writing in ignorance of the actual context – and actually prevented (by procurement rules) from actually talking with those for who one would be working. This not only breaches basic rules of consultancy – but creates a distance I can’t cope with. I’m a touchy, feely guy (in some sense) and can only operate in a hands-on situation when I’m getting responses. The second reason I find this stage difficult is that one is supposed to restrict oneself to the HOW statements – not the WHAT. And I always want to jump to the content – not least to convince the evaluator that they woudl get a good deal if they went with my bid. But, as the content of bids have equal status with the original terms of reference, companies are reluctant to commit themselves to substantial things – and prefer to throw back in different language what the terms of reference are saying. And this is an EU Structural Fund project – whose administrative and financial requirements are so tough (for generally local companies) that it is not difficult to disqualify companies before their methodoligies even reach the evaluation stage! What a game!

So I’m just taking short break (hopefully getting the creative juices working on something more salubrious) – and have a few useful references to make. Amongst all the mythogising of Greece and Greeks that is going on, a rare bit of commonsense. This blog has looked at the various statistics to explore whether the Greeks are in fact as lazy as is being asserted (retirement ages, pension, working days etc ) and finds them untrue. However what is true is that they don’t declare incomes and avoid taxation. And, of course, this is not merely true of Greece – I’ve made the same point about Romania

Yesterday the Scottish Government released an independent report they had commissioned from an interesting collection of people last year on the future of public services in the new tough world . What was impressive was that asked a retired trade unionist to chair it – and did not pack it with their own people. And the report – despite some unpalatable messages – has been positively received in most quarters. So at least the Scottish tradition lives on – unlike the tribal politics of England.

Time for a song - a stirring Spanish political song from the old guard

And Simon Jenkins has rediscovered the virtues of the classic civil service.

I’m becoming a fan of the short story art form. William Trevor, Carol Shields, Vladimir Nabakov always hold me in thrall. Hanif Kureishi is an impressive novellist whose acquaintance I am only now making – with his Collected Stories.

Euro-Sino dialogue on administative reform - a contribution

Posted by publicadminreform on January 18, 2011 at 1:36 AM Comments comments (0)

I have justed uploaded a 35 page paper relating to the current Chinese effort at administrative reform - and the lessons from the last 35 years or so of Western work in this field. Replete with 71 footnotes and a similar number of directly accessdible googlebooks and internet papers. A unique effort - even if I say so myself - if noone blows a trumpet on my behalf (except Tom Gallagher!), then I have to do so myself!  Exactly a year ago to the minute I was preparing for my first meeting in Beijing - by the time I left 2 months later I had formed some impressions of their public services and drafted a few pages on this after my return - which I decided to expand over the New Year break. It reminded me of the summary I had done in 1999 of the European efforts in admin reform - and gave me the opporunity to update these.  

One has to respect the dignified way in which national power in China is shared in the party leadership; policies are hammered out behind the scenes in a dialogue which involves academics; and formal positions of nationals leadership pass in a regularised way from person to person every decade.

Perhaps no leaders in world history have ever had the responsibilities and expectations which those of China have today. Having achieved a remarkable economic transformation and wealth, the leaders of this massive country are now expected to deal with pollution and the poverty in which so much of its people still live; the inequity and systemic corruption; and also achieve a peaceful achievement to a system of Rule of Law.

Those who have the combination of audacity and good fortune to go to the country to assist those efforts – whether in teaching or consultancy – should have the humility to admit that they have no answers.

Not, of course, that their hosts expect that from their visitors. They have their own context and processes of and capacity for policy experimentation, deliberation and decision. They are painfully aware of their weaknesses; and look to their visitors for something which, unfortunately, seems to be in short supply – historical understanding. That is to say the ability to articulate the processes by which, for example, Nordic countries transformed themselves into the societies in which they are today. Sadly, western technocrats have colluded in recent decades to destroy a lot of that.

If a Euro-Sino dialogue can restore some memory and respect for what Europe had, it will indeed have been worthwhile.

another paper

Posted by publicadminreform on January 13, 2011 at 2:30 AM Comments comments (0)

I've added another paper to Key Papers!

It's actually a Briefing Note for anyone engaged in dialogue with the Chinese about public admin reform. It starts with nine impressions of Chinese public services - hopefully striking the right critical balance.  

An annotated list of books follows; and, finally, links to googlebooks, websites, blogs and articles which give useful insights into such things as selection procedures for cadres and Provincial Chiefs, performance management etc 


Briefing Note is not a very sexy title - perhaps The New Mandarins? would attaract more interest?

new papers uploaded

Posted by publicadminreform on January 10, 2011 at 3:10 AM Comments comments (0)

A good new year to the thousands of my viewers!!

I've uploaded some new papers in the last few years - Just Words? - an ongoing project about the dangers of the managerial vocabulary in use by consultants and managers in the public sector.

And Lost in Beijing - a frank assessment of how Beijing and a contractor's style combined a year ago to alienation and quick resignation. In the 100 billion plus euro a year world of the global consultancy business, this lifts a rare veil! 

too busy blogging

Posted by publicadminreform on December 12, 2010 at 4:27 AM Comments comments (0)

Sorry for the absence of any activity on this site - but please look at my (almost) dialy blog -

back again

Posted by publicadminreform on July 4, 2010 at 2:05 AM Comments comments (0)

Ii looks as if the system will now allow me to make new entries - after my 10,000 km tour around Europe. Let's see.....

system no longer allows me to blog here - go to other blog

Posted by publicadminreform on April 1, 2010 at 5:39 PM Comments comments (2)

I can edit the new post the site controllers have made - but whenever I click "new post" it asks me again for my identity and password which starts a circular process which doesn't get me to a new edit.

Please therefore go to for my blogging. And note that I have been able to upload several new papers to "key papers" in the past few days.


March 31 2010 - system doesn't allow me to make new entry

Posted by publicadminreform on December 11, 2009 at 5:41 AM Comments comments (1)

Yesterday I was still collating what I consider are key references for my briefing note on public management reform efforts (in Europe) and beginning to give some thought to the sort of structure my note will need.

First, however, I need to reread the “seminal accounts” – which, despite the large number of academic titles on comparative work in this field, are fairly small in number since most academic overviews which purport to be comparative actually fall into one of two rather different categories.

First there are the ad-hoc collections of case-studies illustrating the priorities of a particular country. The best of this are written around a common set of questions – but most leave it to the author to decide how he wants to write about an experience.

The second type is more comparative – but focussed on a particular tool or approach eg financial, performance management, personnel, agencies, decentralisation etc For example the 2008 book on Managing Performance – international comparisons by Brouckaert and Halligan. A weakness of these books for the practitioner is that they are written to gain points in the academic community – and have therefore to use whatever description they contain into a specialist discourse. Academic discourse is bad enough – but some of the recent post-modernist are evil!

It is for this reason that the most useful books from the practitioner point are those which have been specially commissioned for a customer in the state sector eg OECD or written by an international body. So far my list includes the following -

Public sector reform in Western Europe (1997) Overview paper by Toone and Raadschelder to a larger academic study

Why is it so difficult to reform public administration? Government of the future – getting from here to there (1999) Series of OECD Conference papers

Public Management Reform – a comparative analysis (2000); Academic book by Pollitt and Brouckaert

Performance or compliance – performance audit and public management in five countries (2002); Academic book by Chris Pollitt (technicall this is a bit narrow for this list - being more in the second category I mentioned above but I've put it in because it explores the implcations for PM)

International Public Administration Reform – implications for the Russian Federation (2003); Commissioned study by Nick Manning and Neil Parison of the World Bank

Evaluation in public sector reform – concepts and practice (2003); an academic book by Herbert Wollmann. Again shouldn't really be here since it's not focussing directly on PM but rather its evaluation. Scrapes into my list because of its scope (and because it's the only one of its kind)

Responses to country questionnaire (2005); national inputs to an OECD survey

International Comparison of UK’s public administration (2008); Report commissioned by National Audit Office

Commentary on international models of good government (2008); Report commissioned by National Audit Office


The Manning Report and the second last paper are the most useful. The Manning Report first identifies have some common features with Russian which might make their experience interesting. These are - Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, South Korea, UK, USA on which there are individual chapters. The analysis sets up a typology of perceived problems and subsequent reform tools. Then at the results – suggesting that some countries have forces of resistance which make them “low traction” – for which certain tools only are relevant


The second last paper is perhaps the most intriguing.It suggests that good public administration can be defined by sets of “values”,” outcomes” and “enablers”.

Good PAs are responsive, transparent, accountable, equitable and have a public service ethos.

These can be measured by high quality services, public confidence and trust, good policy advice, culture of seeking value for money and “stability and continuity”

“Enablers” are Culture of performance, Management; Appropriately skilled public Administration; Good leadership; Capacity for change. The report then identifies comparative indices on these outcomes and enablers to rank the UK system

innovation etc

Posted by publicadminreform on December 10, 2009 at 3:33 AM Comments comments (0)

My focus at the moment is a rather challenging assignment in China. Subject to final medical and visa clearance, I depart in 5 weeks and have now started to think myself into the task. I have first to prepare a “Baseline study” on the state of public administration reform there – imagine!! And, as part of that, to draft various briefing papers on the lessons from the countless initiatives of European states in this area eg performance and quality management.

I want to hit the ground running as far as the second part of the initial work is concerned and am therefore trying to first to track down as many recent assessments on the European experience as I can. I do my best to keep up to date – but it is only in the break between assignments that I have to do the surfing and reading which is needed. Earlier this year, for example, I discovered that I had missed quite a few key documents from the British Cabinet Office and yesterday I came across some interesting reports which the National Audit Office had commissioned from academics on innovation in the public sector. I’ve not been able to get separate internet references for the various documents but punch “innovation government” in the NAO search engine and you’ll get 3-4 interesting papers

 The NAO also commissioned PWC to do a review of “Good Government” which focuses on France and USA.

The Cabinet Office has also published a useful study of what they regard as good government initiatives at


“Innovation”, “good government”, “improvement”, quality management”, “performance management” etc The language itself confuses – and, to some post-modernists, is itself the product. I hope to return to this issue which is referred to by the academics who have made this their specialism eg Boivard, Brouckaert, Loeffler, Peters, Pollitt. The European Group of Public Administration has lhad a special committee exploring the issue of productivity in the public sector for some years. Their papers can be accessed at


You can see why I had no time yesterday to blog – I was too busy surfing!


I also came across an interesting overview from 2004 by Elaine Kamarck

She made some intriguing references to the work of President Vincente Fox of Mexico (2000-2006) and when I googled this item I was referred to an article in an open electronic journal I had forgotten about – The International Public Management Review


A glance at the article on the Mexican experience of reform (by Dusaugge) persuaded me that their experience is very relevant to the Chinese! Read it for yourself at$FILE/Dussauge_IPMR_Volume%209_Issue%201.pdf


And today, I discovered the Scandinavian Journal of Politics – whose articles I am able to access courtesy of Wiley. Some fascinating accounts of what they’ve been up to which rarely get to the mainstream journals. Sorry I’m not able to share them – I’ll try to summarise at some point in the future.

are human resources people?

Posted by publicadminreform on December 8, 2009 at 6:25 AM Comments comments (0)

I’ve mentioned already the inestimable, little bombshell called Scottish Review which pops 2-3 times a week into my electronic letterbox. It’s been demonstrating the critical skills which the mainline media have lost by conducting in recent months a simple and one-man campaign to make senior executive pay in Scottish public Agencies and public bodies (such as Health Boards) more transparent and has scored several palpable hits. More of that in a minute.

Today’s issue had a short piece sparked off by the author meeting some of his colleagues who had taken recently retired from middle-level positions in the public service, noticing how more relaxed they looked. “One in particular had been transformed from a tired and careworn individual to a man with a spring in his step and a smile on his face. These were not people who had been in the wrong job, or had lost interest in their professional responsibilities. On the contrary, they had given many years of good service but had simply been ground down by the system and, in the end, were glad to get out. They mentioned a variety of factors which had made retirement a welcome release (or, in a few cases, had impelled them to seek early retirement): the lack of any acknowledgement of their contribution; endless pressure to increase output; the insane demands of an oppressive bureaucracy; less and less time to attend to the matters that they regarded as priorities; periodic restructurings which achieved nothing; managers who failed to inspire trust or respect"

The writer (Walter Humes) concludes thus “Despite all the 'supportive' measures introduced by Human Resource units, significant numbers of long-standing employees have ceased to experience the job satisfaction that motivated them previously and have been glad to escape the constraints of the workplace. Their experience should be taken seriously and used as a basis for reviewing current assumptions about how to treat staff. There is a difference between getting the most out of people and getting the best out of them. In my experience, staff are motivated not by the proliferation of back-covering ‘policies’ and so-called 'entitlements', but by a simple combination of clear expectations, fair treatment, recognition of achievement, backing at times of difficulty, and leadership by example. Underlying all of this is a disturbing question. What kind of people rise to the top when the prevailing culture is one which employs a dishonest rhetoric of employee care, and which alienates the genuinely good guys to the point where they simply want out? It seems a recipe that will allow the calculating, the self-seeking and the cynical to flourish. This perhaps explains why some of our public services are so urgently in need of radical reform. The barbarians are not just at the gate: in some cases, they are running the place”. For the full article see -


Interesting that I should read this the same day I accessed a very good paper by Chris Demmke of the European Institute of Public Administration which reviews recent development in HRM in European member states - What are Public Services Good at? Success of Public Services in the Field of Human Resource Management; Study Commissioned by the Slovenian EU Presidency

Professor Dr. Christoph Demmke/Thomas Henökl, Researcher, EIPA and Timo Moilanen, Researcher, University of Helsinki (EIPA May 2008)


To get a true picture, we always need both academics and vox pop!


Finally revenons aux moutons – pay for senior public executives. Kenneth Roy, the courageous editor of this great little publication, wonders in today’s posting whether the Prime Minister has perhaps been following his campaign. Gordon Brown spoke out strongly yesterday about naming and shaming highly paid senior executives in the public sector. One of them actually stated that he would work for 20% less! In recent postings Roy has been questioning the effectiveness of bodies such as Audit Scotland which are supposedly responsible for ensuring that all is well financially in public bodies. See


A comment from Marianna Clyde gives a sense of the significance of Roy’s campaign -

"Well done on lifting the lid on Audit Scotland. There is indeed a cosy little world of consultants and private accountants benefitting at the public expense while the rest of us suffer. And what does Audit Scotland's staff do all day when their work is done for them by private contractors? And doesn't that rather go against the spirit of 'independent auditing' to hire outside firms? How independent is that?

It is also pretty extraordinary that 'in Scotland, executives and non-executives in public bodies have the right to withhold their consent for disclosure [of salaries] and neither the Auditor General nor Audit Scotland can compel them'. Why? What is the legal basis for this? There is a popular conceit in Scotland that we are naturally a more democratic and egalitarian people than the English, and that the coming of the Scottish Parliament would return us to our 'natural' state. But such disclosures dispel such comfortable myths and show a lazy, slavish, sluggish society apparently at ease with the legitimacy of 'reputation management' as a morally acceptable political technique, a society so comfortable with being managed it has subsumed its critical apparatus and is content to suffer vast and unjust inequalities without asking 'why'? But perhaps no more, if the Scottish Review continues to illuminate the dark corners and ask the awkward questions and expose the fact that Scotland is run by a cliquey, self-satisfied, self-regarding establishment of public sector grandees aided and abetted by their worshipful acolytes in the media and their equally moribund, uncurious politicians in the parliament. Never since the Letters of Zeno appeared in the Caledonian Mercury in December 1782 ('sleep, in a state, leads to slavery' – Zeno) criticising the lack of accountability of the political system of that time, which kick-started the political reform movment, has a series of articles done more to expose the shortcomings of a growing, unaccountable managerial elite and the growth of its management machine. It would be interesting to know what work the 'consultants' employed by Audit Scotland did. For my hopes for a vibrant, genuinely democratic Scottish society I sincerely wish 'reputation management' wasn't one of them!"