No sooner does this chiel think it’s time to have a look at efficiency than a parliamentary committee does exactly that.  “What,” I hear you say, “in the middle of a general election?”  Yes, a trick question for English readers – the Scottish Parliament of course, which quite rightly continues business (almost) unaffected like the Welsh and Northern Irish Assemblies.

 Two days ago the finance committee gathered evidence for their enquiry into the Scottish Government’s budget strategy for 2011-12 and how to improve efficiency in the public sector.

I was there.  Well, thanks to the BBC’s fantastic Democracy Live  channel I was.

Eight witnesses, some known like Seddo (John Seddon – well why not if we have Subo?), some more or less familiar to Scottish readers who follow this sort of stuff, and one or two unknown to all but a specialist technical audience.

A very varied performance from those witnesses, one or two missing some key points (no names – I may need work from them) balanced by some perceptive contributions.

Lots of old friends and jargon springing from various lips.  Salami slicing, inspection, targets, benchmarking, economies of scale, ringfencing, total place, lack of meaningful data and shared services all featured.

Jack Perry of Scottish Enterprise, with a mainly private sector career made some telling points.  Incremental improvement is not radical, transformation change is needed.  Where’s the thinking that will transform a typical public sector timescale of months into days?  Partnership engagement can be “horribly over-engineered”.  And in response to a committee member clearly thinking about private sector bonuses, the incentives you need in the public sector are organisational, devolving responsibility and lifting the burden of inspection.

Questioning from the parliamentarians mostly astute and not for the first time politicians not always getting the answers they deserved

Interestingly, and I checked a previous evidence session on the 13th, no one from either side of the table seemed to address what efficiency or waste actually mean.  Am I the only who thinks it matters to agree a definition before discussing?

It’ll be interesting to see what the committee make of it all in their final report.