British town hall workers: lazy?

A new study says workers in Britain's town halls spend only 32 percent of their time working.

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    An Edinburgh City Council contractor poses with an election polling station sign at a storage warehouse in Edinburgh, Scotland, May 5. A new study says city council workers in the UK work only 32 percent of the time.
    David Moir/Reuters/File
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A study has pinned the blame on bad management for lazy council workers. The average town hall employee spends just 32% of the day working, compared to 44% of those in private companies – which is still exceeded in better performing countries.

Executed by management consultancy group Knox D’Arcy, the study suggested that increasing working rates of council workers would eliminate the need for savage governmental cuts to frontline council services. Instead, up to 27% of workers could be cut.

It’s right to say that raising productivity levels would mean thousands of workers per council could be got rid of. However, if workers want to sit idle all day and there are people prepared to pay them for it, that’s fine! But local authorities don’t have any money; only other people’s. And those other people, the general public, don’t currently have a choice on whether or not they pay council employees. People will work if there’s an incentive to work and won’t work if there’s an incentive not to – and that goes for managers as well.

Bad management may be the proximate cause of lazy council workers, but the ultimate cause is lack of market competition.

The fact is it does not need to be the council who empty the bins, run the local leisure centre or manage tourism. The UK's 410 local authorities spend over £113 billion on day-to-day services, employing more than 2.1 million people and delivering 700 different services. These are all services (the genuine ones; not pseudo-services like equality and diversity) that could be run and managed by private companies, far more diligently and effectively, in a competitive market.

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