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OPINION Time for change


Professor Richard Kerley Two major public service stories have surfaced over recent weeks that should give us pause for thought as we wait for the Christie report to hit our desks (or screens). One is a salutary reminder of how rationalism in decision making can often be trumped by what in academic terms we often call ‘emotional‘ factors. The other concerns a young boy of about three who is struggling to cope with the implications of a rare condition – an emotional story in the genuine sense and one that it’s uncomfortable to use as illustration of a general proposition about our public services. But here goes; though I start with the salutary tale.


Outside of the launch of the Christie Commission, the Justice Secretary announced proposals to review the brigading of the eight police forces of Scotland. The fi re and rescue services have also been subject to review but they are overshadowed by a highly charged debate about policing, and one that has divided various ranks in the force and the chief constables of Scotland


along with their respective police board conveners. The consultation on this has now closed and we are told that the Christie commissioners will be ‘made aware‘ of the views expressed. Whatever the conclusion of the consultation – if such consultations can ever be said to yield a clear and fi rm conclusion – we know that the overwhelming view of the political classes is that a smaller number of larger forces will guarantee more cops on the beat. On top of possible mergers down to three or four, or even a mega-merger to a national police force, is the prospect of more back-offi ce effi ciencies including the sharing of control rooms, whether one for a Scotland-wide force or three in each of a reduced number of forces, the direction of travel is clear. Unfortunately what is also clear- from England – is that shared control rooms are problematic, to say the least. There, a plan to replace nearly 50 fi re service control rooms with nine regional centres is gathering dust, though naturally, it’s rather expensive dust at between £300-£500m in wasted capital and IT costs. The public statements, surprisingly low key in form, blame this on technical faults. The underlying reasons are more complex but essentially mainly turn on the inability of the various partners to co-operate. Same service, but affected by professional and geographic rivalries and


disputes. A willingness to co-operate can overcome many technical faults; unwillingness and resistance to change can be disguised by those same faults. That may be something that could be heading our way soon. The emotional story? That of a small boy in the Grampian area, with a rare eye condition that has unsuccessfully been operated on in Aberdeen. The story reported his grandmother’s claim that the child was denied the best treatment ‘because he’s Scottish.’ Emotive but incorrect; the two specialist centres where medics perform such operations are in London and Birmingham so a child from North Wales or Cornwall would be equally denied. But in her words are the bare bones of an idea that we might well pursue for this and other surgical specialities which we just can’t support in every hospital in Scotland. Regular visiting clinics or such specialisms. They may not be feasible for all specialities but they can be explored, because without such innovations our health service will see pressures that are leading to nurses’ organisations calling for hospital closures in England. Innovate or decline are the only options.


Richard Kerley is Professor of Management, Queen Margaret University


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27 June 2011 Holyrood 33


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