Bryan Webster: Management mumbo jumbo still puts lives at risk
TO discover why public services in Scotland are unresponsive you need only read the Scottish Government’s response to the Alison Hume inquiry.
To recap: Alison Hume fell down a disused mineshaft. Rescuers arrived but stood around for hours before rescuing her. She died later.
Recently the reluctant rescuers, Strathclyde Fire and Rescue Services (SFRS), and the Scottish Government have published their plan to prevent another such tragedy. It won’t.
The plan prescribes the usual nostrums: training; better equipment; improved procedures; “multi-agency co-operation”; specialist team. But it will not prevent another tragedy because it does not resolve its central cause: Alison Hume died because rescuers who wanted to rescue her were prevented from doing so by management.
Management is the problem but what the plan proposes is more management; more loops in the system, more hoops for front line staff to jump through before they can tackle what they see in front of them.
Thus the plan demonstrates the addiction of public service managers to a mindset that separates doers from planners (or, as they like to call themselves nowadays, strategists), on the assumption that senior managers can prescribe what is to be done in all circumstances. Of course, they cannot. Even the report acknowledges that someone must make decisions in “unusual and hard to define circumstances”. But then it bolts back into management jargon: “The SFRS should carry out an audit of operational command training examining, in particular, risk critical decision making”. I hope someone knows what that means the next time a woman cries for help.
There is, of course, a tried and tested way of managing such unpredictability: let front liners decide what to do. Let the rescuer rescue, let the nurse nurse, let the carer care, let roadmen mend the roads. Back their judgment; remove silly rules; give them the tools to do what they see needs doing. Then we can make public services responsive to the needs of the public – and get rid of 90 per cent of management.
• Bryan Webster is a retired management consultant.
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