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About this book

In an age of austerity, public leaders and managers face a range of external challenges - fiscal, social and political. Combining theoretical insight, empirical commentary and practical experience, this book examines how democratic political systems work and how public decisions are made - and how they could be made better.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1. Introduction

Abstract
Liberal democratic governments are exploding from within. The demands of taxpayers for a lower cost state, the desires of service users for more relevant and reliable public services, and the designs of citizens for a more dynamically responsive and accountable politics have democratic government bursting at the seams.
Barry Quirk

Chapter 2. If Men Were Angels

Re-imagining government
Abstract
‘But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary.’1 So wrote one of the Founding Fathers of the American Revolution, James Madison, who wrestled with two key public problems in the period between 1788 and 1790 — how best to handle the problem of public debt and how best to redesign government? Both of these challenges have extraordinarily loud echoes across the world nine generations later.
Barry Quirk

Chapter 3. Jumping to Conclusions

Public interest, public value and public reason
Abstract
Kevin stood next to the four-foot high barrier on the Golden Gate Bridge. His palms were sweating, his throat dry and his mind was racing. Seventy-five metres down, just under five seconds if he jumped, was the cold, green water of the San Francisco Bay. Despite the tears streaming down his face, a German tourist approached him and asked if he would take a picture of her on the bridge with the glory of San Francisco vista behind her. After he clicked the camera shutter something clicked in his mind. She had not even noticed his state of personal distress — clearly no one cared; not even a stranger. He had been wrestling with his conscience for forty minutes before that incident. A stream of consciousness laced with despair pumped adrenaline through his veins — he ran three paces, vaulted the barrier and started his plunge into the water.
Barry Quirk

Chapter 4. Finding a Common Cause

Cooperation, community and the commons
Abstract
A two-storey Victorian school in the Hillsborough area of the city of Sheffield in England is no longer used for teaching young children; it houses the Burton Street Foundation. The Foundation is an independent, mission driven organization that serves a number of social and community purposes. It specializes in hosting services for adults and older children with learning difficulties and with physical disabilities. But it also offers a range of other services to the local community in that part of the city of Sheffield. It offers dance classes for younger children and for older people. It offers music sessions for songwriters and musicians alongside drama sessions and art opportunities as well as gym and health sessions. And it houses a training and employment service that provides personally tailored sessions to people to help them back into employment. The Foundation is not a service provider — it is a ‘community anchor’ or a ‘community hub’. It exists because Sheffield City Council had the foresight to transfer the building (at a price beneath market value) to a local community group rather than sell the land to the highest bidder or knock it down and redevelop the area for housing or office space.
Barry Quirk

Chapter 5. Deciding in a Democracy

Revealing public preferences and balancing biases
Abstract
I learnt to swim as a young boy while on holiday in the seaside town of Margate on the Kent coast in England. Rather than brave the waves in the open sea, I chose the beach lido that was refreshed by seawater on the turning tide. Swimming came easy — the salt water kept me buoyant, and the lido walls kept the waves out. Returning to London after my holiday I decided that I wanted to go swimming again — but there were very few swimming pools in London at the time. Finding somewhere to swim was difficult. However, my friends and I got to learn of a swimming pool within reach by bus. It was said to have the warmest water in London. After a journey of some three miles we arrived at the New Cross ‘baths’. There were two separate entrances to the baths: one for men and boys, the other for women and girls. The changing cubicles were rudimentary and were set along the edges of the pool — the men and boys on one side, the women and girls on the other. The noise inside was a cacophony of splashing and laughter mixed with the shrill whistles of the attendants, who seemed to be struggling to maintain a sense of order among the joyous chaos. There was no diving board but part of the fun involved lots of jumping in at the deep end. My most vivid memory is of the warmth of the water. The folk tales were true. The water was as warm as a bath. It was so inviting that it made you want to swim for hours and never get out.
Barry Quirk

Chapter 6. The Geography of Governing

The uniqueness, distinctiveness and power of place
Abstract
Consider a world in which everywhere was exactly like everywhere else. A world of indistinct landscapes of bland uniformity. A world where the experience of arriving at a destination evoked the same emotion as when leaving the point of origin. And while travelling, everything seemed so eerily familiar — nothing about the terrain through which you travelled was novel or distinctive. The journey from A to B involved the passage of time, but nothing else. The visible landscape undulated with the same overall gradient towards the horizon. Buildings had the same form and feel, streets had the same grey curves and cambers, and the topography of open spaces was wholly unremarkable. In this world, places have no character; neither charm nor edge. No locality, no place is imprinted on anyone’s memory and so no place has a special meaning to any of us. The place you first called home, first rode a bike, first attended school, first felt real sadness, first kissed another, would be just like any other place. Locality would only mean where you were now: a place just like any other. It would not offer you any prospect of emotional bonds or ties of attachment — wherever you are now reading this would be just like wherever I am now writing it.
Barry Quirk

Chapter 7. Results Driven Leadership

Managing and leading for public purpose
Abstract
Malcolm is focused on delivering results. He has a high-pressure job in charge of a high-profile public project with a tight budget and an even tighter timescale. Malcolm is the client project manager for the 6000-seat Velodrome that is to be the venue for the indoor cycling events in the 2012 Olympics in London. This is an £80m scheme being delivered by a specialist contractor — Malcolm leads the overall design consortium to make sure the contractor and suppliers keep to target. His project is highly complicated, it involves a complex web of suppliers, and it has a deadline that simply cannot be missed. In 2008, a large contaminated site in Stratford, East London had to be treated before any building work could start. Over 48,000 cubic metres of material had to be excavated to create the bowl for the venue; and more than 900 steel piles were driven to depths of up to 26 metres to form the venue’s foundation. With just 36 months to go before the start of the Games, over 100 workers were on the site building the concrete base structure. By the spring of 2010, work was complete on the steel structure of the stadium; and by July 2010, with 24 months to go before the Games begin, the awesome sweeping design of the building’s iconic roof was in place and the track installation was underway.
Barry Quirk

Chapter 8. Risky Business

Governing and delivering in uncertainty
Abstract
It was a hot, humid April in Mexico City — one of the largest and most vibrant cities in the world. At its centre live nine million people, surrounded by a sprawl of 59 municipalities containing another ten million people. Mexico City’s notoriety for appalling air pollution had waned a little over the past five years thanks to the efforts of the ‘ecoguardia’ — a task force of some 50 environmental police who stalk polluting cars and trucks throughout the city. Their practice of confiscating the licence plates of the worst polluters had proved fairly successful. Only a few years earlier cyclists routinely wore surgical masks, birds reportedly fell dead in mid-flight and school children were said to use brown crayon to draw the sky. Ranked the world’s most polluted city by the UN in 1992, it had successfully cut air pollution by three-quarters. And now in early 2009 the new president of the US, Barack Obama, was visiting. It was an opportunity for Mexico City to show the world how it had improved the quality of its public health. The trouble was, no one had thought about the health of their pigs.
Barry Quirk

Chapter 9. The Crunch and the Big Squeeze

From private recession to public retrenchment
Abstract
There was just one more week to go before Christmas. It was near the end of 2008 and there was no sign of snow. Jenny had worked in the same high street store for over twenty years. Business had not been so good that year. The high street was looking tired, and all the talk had been about shoppers buying presents online. Her store had been an anchor in this parade of shops for 45 years. It was one of 807 stores of its type in Britain; a well-known brand with roots in every part of the nation. The store was Woolworths.
Barry Quirk

Chapter 10. Better, Quicker, Cheaper

How to reduce the cost of public services
Abstract
The prevailing perception of government services in much of the developed world is that they are less than best, slow to arrive and yet costly to the taxpayer. To reverse this perception it is essential for public leaders (whether elected or appointed) to focus on how they can redesign public services and public organizations to make them more customer centred. They need to be better, quicker and cheaper. Better and quicker to meet the urgent needs of public service users; cheaper to meet the pressing needs of taxpayers.
Barry Quirk

Chapter 11. Conclusion

Abstract
The late American theologian and political commentator Reinhold Niebuhr wrote: ‘Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible; but man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary.’1 Democratic governments have such ancient foundations that we tend to forget their first imaginings — what they were designed to achieve and how they were designed to operate. Thankfully the reformers and revolutionaries of the late 18th century set out some clear designs for government that rested on these foundations. These designs offer us a strong framework for government even now. The ideas of effective representation, of transparency of public decision-making, of disinterested advice combined with political conviction, of constitutional checks and balances — these all have value in today’s world. But these ideas were sharpened before universal suffrage, before the creation of political parties, before the rise of the welfare state (let alone the responsive state), and before the socially dynamic, hyper-connected and media-rich environment in which democratic governments now function. After the collapse of communism, some believed that liberal democracies had won through and that history had ended: that the challenges to democratic government were over. What hubris. Democratic government continues to be challenged from without and from within.
Barry Quirk
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