It’s obvious what efficiency is, isn’t it?
- The Conservative manifesto mentions it 3 times
- Labour 6 times
- [Update – the Lib Dems don’t mention it once in theirs!]
- NHS guidance for clinicians (The NHS Quality, Innovation, Productivity and Prevention Challenge) 12 times
- A Good Practice Checklist on efficiency by Audit Scotland, the Northern Ireland Audit Office and the Wales Audit Office 54 times
- Audit Scotland’s related report on Improving Public Sector Efficiency caps the lot with a massive 230 mentions.
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.
- Efficiency is working productively with minimum wasted effort or expense – Compact Oxford English Dictionary
- Efficiency is the ratio of the output to the input of any system – WordNet
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…