Government at every level tends to be set up like a machine. You put something in one end, and a set process is followed until something else comes out of the other. To misquote Bismarck it is a sausage machine.
Quite how efficient this machine is varies enormously. I’m tempted to suggest it’s correlated to the engineering and manufacturing capability of the place in question. But while that holds true for Germany or 70s Britain, it rather falls down when you consider the government of Italy, and, say, Ferrari.
Of course, this has many benefits. Not least that it allows an easy check on how public money is being spent, you know the inputs (money going in) and can count the output (bins emptied, children educated, library books issued). It allows for easy measurement and management, and it allows for easy comparison since -theoretically – the costs should be roughly the same in each borough.
But what’s missing is the humanity. People make judgements on fuzzy feelings not on the percentage of missed bin collections (hopefully low), children educated (hopefully high) or books issued (hopefully high). Yes, these play a part, if your bin was never collected then you would probably not be pleased with the council. But generally, I think, people are willing to accept the occasional mistake, as long as it is rectified and not repeated.
So they know their bin will get emptied and they judge their satisfaction on things like their local shops, the transport, the nightlife (which they may, or may not, want) near them. It is not about numbers but a whole collection of individual factors that contribute to how they feel.
To give an example, when I first moved to London I lived in Brent for a very short while. I lived there for a short while because I didn’t like it. To be fair the services that I used were good, transport excellent, I felt safe on the street and there was a strong sense of community. If you looked at all the measures that government traditionally use there is no reason at all I shouldn’t like it. But I didn’t.
Conversely, it’s very difficult for me to say exactly why I liked Wandsworth immediately and have lived here ever since. Bins are emptied and public transport is good (well, acceptable if you can bear the crush) but there’s more to it than these fairly binary measures. And while I know the council has played its part, even been a key driver, in getting all these sums to add up to a great borough I’m not sure I fully understand the maths.
The new government and my new job on the council has started me thinking about the maths quite a lot, and its amazing how much a new hat changes your way of thinking, even if you are dealing with the same issues. We do, of course, need these binary measures, we need to check that what we are doing is effective and making a difference. But there is also the question of how these fit into the bigger pictures, because somehow all these individual factors, added to those of local business, the police, health service and so many others are added together to make the Wandsworth we all live in.
So, what is it about Wandsworth that you like… or love… or hate? And what do you think are the ingredients of that particular sausage?