Smaller state – bigger society, where will the stresses be?

Smaller state – bigger society, where will the stresses be?

by Dr Karl Mackie CBE

Today, as the new Government says it wants to make society ‘bigger’ and the state smaller, by giving over control of the facilities which matter locally to communities, many ears will still be ringing with the news that, as part of the move to reduce public expenditure, the NHS is to lose its top layer of bureaucracy.

Whilst on paper there may not be many similarities between taking control of a village library and winding down a Primary Care Trust, there are a number of parallels and common pitfalls that must be watched for. There will be tricky negotiations which will need to be held around the country and which, inevitably, politicians and civil servants will need to be part of.

Resistance to change can be a very natural human position, particularly when it involves the taking of power from a group and moving it elsewhere. It is to be expected that such a move, particularly if not sensitively handled, will in some instances cause resentment and possibly conflict, resistance and efforts to undermine any change.

From the thousands of disputes that CEDR has seen, we know that conflict can commonly arise from changing the people running an operation and its structure. New managers will naturally have different agendas and understandably will want to bring in their own ideas. New structures may create potential imbalances and new implementation and governance problems. The likelihood of conflict arising is dependant on the way in which these moves are made, the tone in which audiences are addressed and on the systems and capabilities laid down for effective conflict management.

With these new initiatives in the offing it is important that, if they are to succeed for the benefit of all, that they are not bogged down in disputes that might have been avoided had the initial discussions taken place differently or the potential for conflict been foreseen and effective mechanisms introduced nationally and locally.

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