Ouch, this is going to hurt.  To mix my metaphors I don’t really like raking over old wounds.

Knox d’Arcy are a company who claimed in August 2010 that

The UK’s councils could do the same amount of work with 500,000 fewer staff if they matched the productivity of private firms

The claim niggled me because I couldn’t find significant supporting evidence for the statements in what was not much more than a brief press release at the time.

So I blogged about it, initially under the title The Curious Case of Council Productivity.  That unleashed a torrent of comment, mostly on the Local Government Improvement and Development web site, where I’d cross-posted my thoughts.

I copied all the comments to this blog in its longest post yet, The curious case of council productivity – what do people think?.  The almost universal answer to my question, expressed in many different ways, was Not much.

Spurred by this response I looked into the topic a bit more and then posted my conclusions under the straightforward question “500,000 council jobs could go” research – is it right?

My conclusion was

…on the basis of the information available it is possible (I stress possible) that the conclusion local government could shed 500,000 jobs and still provide the same level of service is based on 173 interviews and 36 day long observations in two councils in 2003 and 2006, in both of which at least some councillors disputed the conclusions they were given

I would love to be proved wrong.

As a footnote, I should say I do believe there is scope for major improved efficiency and effectiveness in local government specifically and the wider public sector more generally.

But the way to identify those improvements is detailed work and prioritisation by each council.  An extrapolation of what in all honesty is a tiny survey to a conclusion that half a million jobs are dispensable across hundreds of councils helps no one.

And that was an end to my active interest in the matter.

I kept my eye on the web site of the company concerned.  Eventually a link to download their report appeared – but only if you provided contact details.  Given my critical comments on their work and the way they publicised it I decided not to take that option.  I suspect I would not have changed my view of their conclusions.

Tomorrow, something more edifying with the No. 3 in my web search Top 10 – another of my lesser known heroes of improvement.