Three stories worthy of note. This from Civil Service World website:-
The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) has denied suppressing the findings of a highly critical independent report into its flagship "Troubled Families" programme, as the scheme's former chief Louise Casey hit out at "unedifying" attacks on its work.
The Troubled Families programme was launched by ministers in 2012 before being granted a £900m extension last year, and sees central government give councils up to £4,000 to identify and "turn around" families with entrenched social problems including unemployment, domestic abuse and truancy. The families then receive a dedicated social worker to coordinate public service support to tackle their problems.
But a report published this week by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) – which was commissioned by DCLG in 2014 – called into question the success of the scheme, saying it could find “no significant or systematic impact” that could be directly attributed to the multi-agency programme.
Appearing before the Public Accounts Committee, DCLG permanent secretary Melanie Dawes rejected suggestions that the department had tried to "sit on" findings it disagreed with, as Dame Louise Casey – who led the first incarnation of the programme – hit out at the NIESR for the way it had presented its own study.
Part of DCLG's analysis was leaked to the BBC earlier this year, prompting questions from MPs on the committee about why the department had taken so long to publish its full study.
Dawes insisted that, although the NIESR's research had been ready in August, it was one part of a wider evaluation exercise commissioned by the department which had not been ready for publication until the "synthesis report" uploaded to GOV.UK this week.
"I don't know what copy the BBC had, of course," she said. "It was a leaked document. What I can say is that the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) bit of the evaluation was finalised at the end of August – that forms part of the overall evaluation. It was big and complex and it did take longer than we expected" – DCLG perm sec Melanie Dawes
Seeking to justify the delays, Dawes said the NIESR's part of the evaluation was based on a "very complicated and quite kind of experimental national data evaluation", and said interim findings from the team had raised concerns in the department that there were "very many data issues" with its initial work.
As a result, Dawes said, officials had "challenged the fundamental basis" of some of the NIESR's analysis, and had called in an academic from the University of Cambridge to review the think tank's findings.
But PAC chair Meg Hillier said it was "extraordinary" that a report initially expected in early 2014 had only been published two-and-a-half years later – and just 48 hours before the hearing by MPs. She asked Dawes what DCLG had been "trying to hide" through the protracted publication process.
The DCLG perm sec replied: "We weren't hiding anything. And, in fact, I should say I think the evaluation is very ambitious – the department invested in a way that no other social programme has invested in evaluation.
Casey, who is now leading a review into opportunity and integration for the government, said there was "no way on god's earth" that it would be helpful for the department to suppress findings. But she attacked the NIESR for publishing its analysis separately of the department's wider report, a move she said had led the media to focus only on its negative findings. "The frustration is that it is one part of a much bigger story," she said.
The NIESR's report found that outcomes for families in the programme were almost identical to those who were not given special treatment, with 45% still claiming jobless benefits a year-and-a-half later, and anti-social behaviour, criminal offences, and truancy levels no lower than for those in the programme.
But while Casey said she did not dispute the central findings of the NIESR's study, she said the negative elements of its work appeared to have been "quite deliberately" emphasised.
"I've got nothing to lose in a scenario like this," she said. "I think lots of comment made by those closely involved with the evaluation – who have been leading on the press in the last few days – has been unedifying. They didn't wait until the rest of the evaluation was out. I'm sure they feel suppressed but that simply isn't true."
Asked by PAC chair Hillier whether she was "unhappy" with the way the NIESR had conducted themselves, Casey replied: "I am, I'll be honest about it. I don't want to make it a personal thing, because actually I accept that this – within the strictures of this one piece of work, it doesn't prove what I hoped it would prove. But did I ask the department to sit on it? No I didn't. I think it's better to have that stuff out and washed out in the public domain so you can have a discourse about it. My frustration, if I'm honest, is that we haven't had a chance to set the record straight."
The former Troubled Families chief said "no one" would dispute "the fact that 116,000 [families] had problems and now have less of those problems". But were you to have read some of the publicity in the last few days and indeed what's been put out by this organisation you would think 'oh, the whole programme's useless'," she said.
Writing on Twitter during Casey's evidence, NIESR fellow Jonathan Portes said his organisation's press release promoting its findings had "simply reproduced" the executive summary of a report signed off by DCLG itself.
This from the BBC website:-
The government's ambitious prison reform plans are "simply not achievable", the former chief inspector of prisons has warned. Giving a lecture in London, Prof Nick Hardwick said rising suicides, assaults and murders in jails were proof of the "loss of control". His comments come days after a prisoner was stabbed to death and two others injured in London's Pentonville prison.
The government says it will set out prison safety and reform plans soon. It has already announced an extra £10m to be spent on prison safety, and 400 extra staff are due to be deployed by March next year.
In his speech, Prof Hardwick - chief inspector of prisons from 2010-16 - said homicide in prison had previously been rare at between one and three a year, but had risen to seven in 2015 and five so far this year. "I don't believe this recent increase is a coincidence," he said.
"It is the most extreme example of the decline in safety that I... have been warning about for years." Given the loss of control, "ambitious plans to improve rehabilitation and education or tackle extremism are simply not achievable", he said.
"I see no sign that the number of homicides, self-inflicted deaths, self-harm incidents and assaults will not continue to rise. Politicians, policy-makers and senior managers need to think through very, very carefully and honestly the consequences of further deterioration and how this might end up," he added.
He went on to say that the Prison Governors Association's call for an inquiry into the state of jails in England and Wales was "the last thing we need", as it would take years before any action was taken. Instead, he said safety in prisons would only improve if there was "a very substantial increase in staffing levels".
Prof Hardwick became chair of the Parole Board in March this year, and was the first chair of the Independent Police Complaints Commission from 2003 to 2010.
This from the Guardian:-
How management consultants are cashing in on austerity
Since 2010, when the coalition embarked on austerity, one profession has turned cuts to the public sector into a business opportunity: management consultants. How did they get the gig? Are they doing essential work for beleaguered services or are they charlatans with a PowerPoint presentation?
You might ask why Whitehall and councils can’t make these decisions for themselves, but the severity of the cuts has meant that the people who normally make the cuts have themselves been cut. An entire strata of bureaucracy has disappeared, and management consultants have filled the hole. They advise on decisions that will profoundly alter the shape of public services in Britain, and so how they make these judgments is crucially important.
David Craig, a former management consultant with 30 years’ experience, explains that their aggressive business plan involves a problem-finding strategy. “What you’re looking for is something that gives a big emotional shock to the client. We want to take them to what we call the ‘valley of death’.”
The “valley of death” is the apocalypse scenario, telling the troubled organisation that if they don’t do something huge and expensive to change quickly, it’s going to fail, fast.
Very few organisations need a complete overhaul; they need sensible tweaks. But this, Craig says, doesn’t sound dramatic. That’s why you hear consultants refer continuously to “transformation programmes”.
“Once we’ve taken them into the valley of death, it’s time for salvation. Now we go to the sunny uplands: it’s bad, it’s really bad, but working together we can save the situation. It’ll only cost you two or three million, or maybe you need to buy a computer system for another 50 million.”
This strategy of finding things to fix once you’ve got your foot in the door is known in the trade as “land and expand”. “You start to uncover issues in an organisation and put them under pressure,” says John Bennett, a former management consultant to the public sector. But is this cynical or just good business?
In Wales, PricewaterhouseCoopers rolled out a template called an “operating model assessment” across numerous councils, pocketing more than £5m. But this initial work, Bennett says, was to land bigger money with something called a “risk and reward” contract. Instead of accepting a fee upfront, the consultancy firm takes a percentage on any savings it can find. The more cuts that are made, the more money it takes.
One council in south Wales entered into a “risk and reward” contract that reportedly netted PwC 16% profits on all cuts made. This might seem outrageous, but it’s a neat solution to a tricky situation. Councils accused of hiring expensive consultants can use a contract that avoids upfront money. And consultants have a stake in working hard to find new savings rather than rolling out a template.
PwC says: “It is important that our work delivers a tangible return on taxpayers’ investment. Our fees are often – and increasingly – dependent on the performance of our services, whereby we are only paid in full if we deliver the full benefits agreed.”
But is it morally right that management consultants are making a profit from cuts to public services? “I think it’s absolutely right that they should be rewarded for achieving what the public sector wants to achieve,” says Alan Leaman, chief executive of the Management Consultancies Association.
Anthony Hunt, the leader of another Welsh council, Torfaen, says that if the advice leads to some services being protected, then it’s a price worth paying. The danger comes when “strategic partnerships” with consultants create a dependency on consultants.
Consultants have been at the heart of government since the late 60s. Under Harold Wilson’s technocratic revolution, the civil service wasn’t trusted to deliver radical reform. The then minister of technology, Tony Benn, believed outside experts were the only way to make change happen. And so the allure of the “expert” was cemented in the minds of politicians of all political persuasions, and parts of Whitehall’s civil service were sidelined.
Some accountants and IT managers turned consultants, became outsourcing suppliers, running everything from prisons to road maintenance. They had figured out that actually running a contract worth billions was more lucrative than advising on who should run it, for mere millions.
McKinsey & Company has advised and restructured everyone from the White House to General Motors since the 1920s. But it has also been entangled in Enron and John Major’s privatisation of Britain’s railways. Firms such as McKinsey have been at the heart of government for so long, they arguably now provide the continuity and in-house knowledge the civil service once did, so the question is: what’s the problem?
The answer might be lack of transparency, which creates suspicion, even if it may be unfounded. There are good consultants out there, doing valuable work helping public services in critical condition stay alive. Their work is focused and necessary but here’s the key thing: they walk away when the job is done. It’s just the other kind we should worry about.