SCP: Are we getting our money’s worth?

Value for public money, the report by socio-cultural advice bureau SCP out on Tuesday has caused a bit of a ripple. Schools, hospitals, the police and the courts have all been given extra money but services have hardly improved. Cutbacks would not affect the public sector disproportionately, the SCP concludes. So could the money have been better spent? Or does the report only tell part of the story.

‘There’s room for cutbacks says the SCP and that’s music to the cabinet’s ears’, NRC heads its analysis of the report. The paper had look at the sectors under fire. The conclusion is that while the SCP has measured results it has also left out a number of les tangible aspects which might have influenced the outcomes.
Police detection rates were up by 11 % between 1995 and 2010, a good result were it not that police productivity is up by 0.3 % a year compared to a 4 % cost increase. The report does not explain where the money went but according to the paper likely suspects are the ever expanding bureaucracy in the police force – every interview now has to be taped – and piles of paperwork. The figures notwithstanding, nrc doesn’t believe the cabinet will cut back on personnel. ‘Safety remains a priority’, it writes.
One of the main criticisms on the makers of the report is that they have looked at the CITO school leaving test figures and not much else. NRC thinks that it may be true that neither smaller primary school classes nor increases in teachers’ salaries have made a difference in school performance. But the report fails to take into account that schools have to spend money on building maintenance and that teachers’ jobs involve more than teaching alone. And what, asks the paper, if that money had not been spent? More children to a class may have had a detrimental effect on the results and if it hadn’t been for the salary increase fewer people would have chosen teaching as a career. It would be unfortunate if a cabinet intent on cutting costs were to ignore the needs of school boards and teachers because of this report, the paper concludes.
Again, ‘productivity’ is up: more cases came to court. Costs have risen disproportionately, however. What the report doesn’t mention is that the judiciary has changed considerably over the years, nrc writes. Cases are referred to mediators, for example. And courts are handling ever more complex and therefore lengthy cases which require expert and expensive input. There have also been large IT investments. If the quality of justice has improved as a result of the extra money, then it was probably worthwhile, the paper says. But the SCP doesn’t go into that.
This is the only sector found to have benefitted from extra investment. More equipment has meant a more efficient treatment of patients, freeing up staff for other tasks. Here is where we get value for money, the SCP says.
Meanwhile in de Volkskrant, government party VVD has latched on to the SCP findings on education. VVD MP Ton Elias wants a debate on the budget for education, the paper writes.
Elsewhere in the paper the MP is reported to have been given the award for the worst education idea by union Leraren in actie. ‘Numbskull’ Elias called for less moaning and groaning by teachers who he said were ‘lazy, slow and uninterested’, which made him win hands down.
D66 sees ‘its worst fears come true’. The government is looking for an extra €10bn worth of spending cuts. D66 fears the report will be ‘used against’ the public sector.
Conspiracy theory
Chairman of the school leaders association AVS Ton Duif agrees. ‘If you were a fan of conspiracy theories you would believe that the report is an prelude to another round of cutbacks’, he is quoted as saying. The SCP says the timing of the report is purely coincidental but that ‘cheese slicer’ cutbacks are a realistic option.
Holy grail
The Volkskrant in its editorial thinks the SCP is trespassing on political territory. It is detecting ‘a sharp, almost political tone’ in the report which invalidates the points it’s making. Quality is not only measured in productivity, the paper says, and should not become ‘a holy grail’.