Memorandum by The London Borough of Hammersmith
and Fulham (PSR 21)
The London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham
welcomes this inquiry into important aspects of the Government's
programme of public service reform. This memorandum of evidence
primarily addresses that part of the Select Committee's issues
paper covering the concept of a public service ethos, and the
involvement of the private sector, (questions 6-18).
Question 6: Is the concept of public service an
The Council would argue definitely no. An ethos
of unself-interested, impartial dealing with people, in a working
environment in which decisions are not motivated by commercial
profit, remains important to the successful delivery of public
The Council believes that dealings between local
government and the public, often involving the allocation of resources
and the application of rules and procedures, should be carried
out in an organisational culture underpinned by principles of
fairness, equity, probity, professional ethics, and a wider "public
good", rather than a culture of corporate commercial gain.
It also believes that it remains essential to a relationship of
trust between citizen and the state that the public should perceive
such principles and motivations to be at the core of the actions
and day to day decisions of the majority of public servants.
Questions 7 and 8: Is there a public service ethos
and how can it be defined? How is the public service ethos different
from the private (or voluntary sector) ethos?
While the public service ethos may seem an abstract
concept, difficult to define and measure with any precision, there
is a body of evidence from research and attitudinal surveys in
the public and private sectors that show firstly that it exists,
and secondly that it remains a highly relevant consideration in
the effective delivery of public services.
Research carried out in 1994 for the Commission
for Local Democracy and ICSA (1) explored the extent to which
there was any historical evidence of a clear public sector ethos
in local government, or whether this concept had only " mythical"
status and reflected no more than a recent construct designed
to protect professional or institutional interests.
The research based on fieldwork in four local
authorities, concluded that "there were certain deep rooted
values that underpin the culture of local government and inform
the day-to-day activities of those employed in it".
The conclusions of the study were that while
such values may remain ill-defined and confused on some occasions,
and that talk of their "erosion" in the early 1990s
was probably overplayed, they remained important to the motivations
and attitudes of employees. Looking forwards, the key features
of the local government ethos perceived as emerging at that time
were that it "emphasises a competitive, contractual, insular,
and adversarial culture" which would "gradually compound
the divisive elements of the new local government, leading to
a disintegrated and disunited range of local services".
While not participating in this particular research,
the Borough Council shared many of its concerns and conclusions,
and in 1995/6 participated in an extensive piece of academic research
on responsibility, accountability, and ethics in large organisations
(2). This was a comparative attitudinal survey of eight organisations,
including a water company (privatised in 1989), two local authorities,
an accountancy firm, a clearing bank, a Government Next Steps
agency, an airline and a large public sector union.
The study examined moral and ethical behaviour
of employees in these organisations, through structured interviews
with staff at all levels.
The conclusions of the study were that staff
were very conscious of the ethical and moral climate in which
they worked and that the ethics of organisations are inextricably
linked with the ethical experience of their employees. In dealing
with work-related moral dilemmas, relating to how service users
or customers should be treated, or rules interpreted, or internal
employee relations issues resolved, the research also identified
a number of characteristics of the "moral organisation".
Issue of staff motivation, and of wanting to
"do the best for people", affected day to day job decisions
at all levels of the organisation from front-line staff to senior
There was some evidence from this comparative
study that organisations attract workers who share the organisational
values and ethos of their employers, and that participants in
the surveys who liked "helping others", and who held
equality and justice as their salient beliefs, were by and large
working in public rather than private sector organisations.
This corresponds with the council's view that
in terms of attracting, recruiting and retaining staff, it is
becoming increasingly important for local authorities to demonstrate
their organisational values and their ethos. Amongst successful
local authorities are those who can recruit and retain staff whose
professional skills and expertise would often earn them significantly
higher salaries in the private sector (particularly in professions
such as legal services, IT, engineering, accountancy), but who
choose to work in local government not least because of the moral
dimension of working for an organisation underpinned by concepts
of public good as compared with private gain.
These issues were explored by MORI and the Public
Management Foundation in their 1996 publication (3). The extensive
database of employee surveys held by MORI continues to show that
within the public sector, work interest is placed first in priority,
above pay. It is less clear to what extent "work interest"
applies simply to variety in content of work, or to the underlying
themes of moral and social responsibility in which many public
servants find satisfaction.
Based on its own experience over the past decade,
and feedback from internal staff attitudinal surveys, the Councils
remains firmly of the view that public service values are important
in defining overall organisational culture. Hence the council
promotes to its staff and its public a broad public service ethos,
emphasising an outward-looking, open and co-operative approach
to the delivery of services, working with partner agencies and
freely sharing knowledge and best practice in a way that was beginning
to disappear in the quasi-commercialised management culture encouraged
in local government in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
These principles are reinforced through staff
development and training, and the staff values encouraged through
an authority-wide Investors in People programme.
Is the public service ethos necessarily a good
thing? Can it be an obstacle to the effective delivery of services
to the public? (Question 9)
In terms of the current national debate on public
service reform and "what works", the Council has long
believed that the motivations and values of its staff, at all
levels within the workforce, remains a crucial ingredient in its
overall task of delivering high quality public services. As noted
by the chairman of the Public Management Foundation in its 1996
report (3) "public services are there not only to serve the
customer well, but also to produce social results which go beyond
political expediency, financial efficiency, and customer satisfaction.
Public serviceswhether or not organised under state ownershipproduce
public benefits that are not always calculable within the mathematics
of a mixed economy. An educated workforce, a safer community,
a healthier population are not outcomes to which we can easily
assign measurable values".
In developing its own capacity and performance
over the past decade, as a leading modernising inner London Borough,
the Council has always aimed to achieve this broader "added
value" to service delivery, arguing that the whole is more
than the sum of the parts when it comes to providing community
leadership and good governance, over and above the delivery of
good quality services.
This has not always been a position supported
by central government, nor a view fashionable amongst proponents
of the "New Public Management". Throughout the early
1990s, the Council argued strenuously against the then prevailing
concepts of the "enabling" local authority, and pursued
a model of the "cohesive" and governance-led council,
in which neither services nor values were fragmented or dissipated.
In written evidence to the 1995-6 Select Committee
on Relations between Central and Local Government (4) the Council
highlighted its perception of the way in which contractual and
quasi-contractual relationships and the business unit model, as
mechanisms for delivering public services, were eroding ethical
values within public services and diminishing the added value
that cohesive local government can provide.
In written and oral evidence to the Committee
on Standards in Public Life (5), the Council spelt out the difficulties,
under the then statutory regime of the 1980 and 1998 Local Government
Acts, of continuing to ensure high and consistent standards of
ethics and probity in a climate when local authorities were under
increasing expectations to operate a hybrid combination of services,
delivered through public and private workforces. The Council also
drew attention to the way that the growing focus on private sector
management techniques and the merits of internal trading were
diverting the attention of employees from a focus on public service
ethos and public service standards, towards forms of quasi-commercialisation
of less relevance to public service delivery.
Chapter 5 of the Committee's Third Report (6),
which will be familiar to the Select Committee, explores these
Since the mid 1990's there has been a renewed
recognition of the risks of erosion of high standards with public
life, leading to the new ethical framework for local government
in the Local Government Act 2000, new model codes for employees
and councillors, the clear direction from the Local Government
Ombudsman that private sector providers of public services remain
accountable for their actions, and the widespread introduction
of `whistleblowing' procedures in local councils. The Council
has welcomed this shift in thinking, and has actively implemented
this agenda locally.
As to whether the public service ethos can be
an obstacle, it has long been held in some quarters that public
sector bureaucracies are inherently inefficient, as compared with
private sector organisations, and that the public sector ethos
can `get in the way' of cost-effective service delivery, and the
modernisation and overhaul of public services. A more cynical
view is that the very concept of a public service ethos is designed
to protect interests rather than deliver good government.
At the point of service delivery, it can certainly
be the case that public service employees may make different judgements
as to how they apply their time and energies, in how they deal
with day to day service issues, than their private sector counterparts.
The research instanced above demonstrated to the Council the thinking
and motivations of its employees, in a variety of situations,
and raised issues about the balance between what would be seen
as `commercial efficiency' as opposed to the achievement of wider
social goals and the public good.
In the situation of a Housing Benefit officer
processing a complex housing benefit claim, the dilemma faced
may be whether to spend an extra 15 minutes resolving a given
problem, or to set the file aside and move on to the next. For
the public sector employee, the factors influencing and motivating
his or her judgements and decisions will be variousthe
daily pressures to get the job done, the expectations of his/her
line manager, targets for the section to deliver. But there will
also be countervailing pressures against rushing the task, which
may include an awareness that the council will be at risk of a
maladministration claim if the calculations are not done correctly,
a sense of accountability to a ward councillor will have an unhappy
tenant on their doorstep, and ultimately an innate sense that
as a public servant the over-riding goal of a day's work is to
deliver the `right' outcome, in terms of social equity as well
as arithmetical accuracy, even though this may take a little longer.
A question the committee may wish to explore
with witnesses from the private sector is the extent to which
the employee of a private company, undertaking the same task,
will be acting from an identical set of motivations and pressures,
or will also be influenced by commercial imperatives to process
claims in a manner that can guarantee predefined profit targets
and shareholder expectations.
The actions of the former employee may well
be inefficient, in the commercial sense, but are they ineffective?
While those major private sector companies now involved in delivering
housing benefit services may improve their track record over time,
experience in recent years (at least in London) suggests that
delivering complex public services through the private sector
can lead to systemic failures, and consequent direct suffering
and indirect detriment for tenants, landlords, housing associations,
local authorities and others, on a scale unprecedented to date
in British public administration.
The issue here is whether it has simply been
the mechanics of specific contractual and outsourcing arrangements
that have been at fault, or whether there are deeper and more
complex issues of employee motivation, attitude, accountability
and responsibility which have affected outcomes? From its own
experience of managing and delivering the full range of local
government services, in an increasingly demanding environment
over the past decade, LBHF would urge the Committee to consider
seriously the latter case.
In attempting to assess the benefits of the
public ethos, little or no detailed research appears to have been
done to date on its long-term economic value, in terms of the
wider social and economic impact of many millions of daily decisions
and judgements made by public sector workers, operating from within
organisational cultures driven by "not-for-profit" goals.
One of the risks of applying overly narrow measures
of efficiency and effectiveness to the delivery of public services
is that the contribution of a public sector ethos, whether it
be in the extra hours worked for no pay (a growing phenomena in
many London boroughs) or the extra 15 minutes spent in resolving
a problem at source, reassuring a vulnerable or anxious member
of the public, making the connections between services that add
value for the user, responding at midnight to an unexpected emergency,
go uncalculated and unrecognised. The hidden costs of not working
in this way surface only further down the line, or fall on other
agencies left to pick up the consequences.
Do private sector people working in and around
government, including secondees, task force members and others,
undermine the public service ethos? Are special measures needed
to regulate their activities and prevent possible conflicts of
interest? (Question 14)
LB Hammersmith and Fulham has concerns that
the growing practice of staff being loaned or seconded from private
sector organisations to government departments, and some local
government agencies, has at least the potential to undermine public
confidence and trust.
On the one hand, it is fully recognised that
the public sector has much to learn from the private sector, and
that such secondments provide a seemingly simple way of bringing
private sector experience and expertise into Government.
On the other hand, the public at large, and
local government staff, have a deep and abiding understanding
that there is no such thing as a free lunch. For private sector
secondees to be loaned to task forces and to work in Government
departments, will mean to the observer that somehow and somewhere,
commercial and private interests are being served.
For private sector companies to sponsor one
major conference or seminar, might be accepted as an act of selfless
altruism. For companies to sponsor a series (as has routinely
begun to happen in areas of the "modernisation" agenda
such as e-government), means that the public will increasingly
believe there are other interests at play.
The recent series of DTLR publications on "strategic
partnering" (7) offer a case in point. Appearing in a standard
format they range in content from formal consultation on the statutory
framework for Best Value, through to what can best be described
as exhortatory mission statements on how councils should approach
the private sector ("Councils should develop a business-friendly
culture at all levels").
The Strategic partnering taskforce established
by DTLR is made up of executive and associate members, including
a range of secondees and external advisers from the public and
private sectors. A Code of Practice is to be made available, under
which members of the taskforce will work, recognising the potential
for conflicts of interest. Given that a significant number of
the companies making staff available to the task force will also
be involved in commercial and contractual partners in forthcoming
"strategic partnerships", such additional measures would
seem very necessary.
While codes and vigilance by civil servants
at DTLR may well ensure that probity is maintained, the message
given by such publications to local government employees, and
to the wider public, is a profound one. Delivery of local government
services in increasingly portrayed as a world in which private
and public employees are expected to mix seamlessly, bringing
with them sets of values, attitudes, and motivations that have
hitherto been different, but which should now merge to achieve
new models of best practice and effectiveness.
The fundamental issues remain as to whether
such a seamless merger is ever possible, and the delivery of private
profit made compatible with the delivery of public good. While
LB Hammersmith and Fulham is currently pursuing a range of new
forms of private/public partnerships, in order to achieve much
needed investment in services and infrastructure, it will continue
to monitor closely their impact both on the values and motivations
of its staff, and on levels of trust between the council and its
The Council remains very clear that the ethos
and commitment of its workforce bring to the borough significant
economic and social value, and that if ever lost, this would prove
very hard to recover.
1. The Public Service Ethos in Local
Government Lawrence Pratchett and Melvin Wingfield, De Montfort
University, Leicester (published by CLD and ISCA November 1994)
2. research undertaken by Professor Barbara
Goodwin, published as Henley Research Centre Management Papers,
and in book form as Ethics at Work, Kluwer Academic Publishers
in 2000 (ISBN 0-7923-6649-2)
3. The Glue that BindsThe Public
value of Public Services, published by the Public Management
Foundation and MORI, 1996
4. Evidence from LBHF to Select Committee
on Relations between Central and Local Government, HL paper 97-1,
5. Written evidence from LBHF to Committee
on Standards in Public Life, September 1996, and oral evidence
to the committee January 1997 (Cm 2850-11)
6. Third Report of the Committee on Standards
in Public Life, on Aspects of Conduct in Local Government in England,
Scotland and Wales
7. DTLR publications, Working with Others
to Achieve Best Value (March 2001), Supporting Strategic
Partnerships in Local Government (April 2001), and Working
TogetherEffective Partnering between Local Government and
Business for Service Delivery (October 2001).