It’s obvious what efficiency is, isn’t it?

But none of them say what it is.  It’s a bit like Lewis Carroll’s Hunting the Snark:

They sought it with thimbles, they sought it with care

They pursued it with forks and hope…

They hunted till darkness came on, but they found

Not a button, or feather, or mark…

For Scotland (where I live) it’s surely fair to turn to the Scottish Government for a clear statement.  Their Efficient Government Programme 2008/09 – 2010/11.  Efficiency Process & Guidance says

Efficiency is not about making cuts.  It is about raising productivity, enhancing value for money and improving public service delivery.

There are two types of efficiency:

Cash-releasing efficiencies are achieved by delivering an actual resource efficiency because the organisation or function delivers the same service at a reduced cost which might be demonstrated by delivering the same outcome(s) or output(s) for a reduced input (e.g. costs, people, procurement, assets etc) or delivering a reduced unit cost allowing an increased volume of service for the same cost. Cash efficiencies release financial resources to be used for other or increased public services.

Time-releasing efficiencies are defined as efficiency measures which do not release cash but allow frontline services to deliver better services with the same money (for example, through workforce reform or better support).

 So we’re sort of getting there even if it’s long-winded.  We could start by using two simpler definitions.

And for public services:

  • inputs = money (mostly yours), staff, buildings, IT equipment, materials
  • outputs = services (occasionally products).

 So we should be trying to use the least inputs to produce a given output.

 Fair comment?  Part 3 to follow…