The free market has become the accepted model for the public sector. Politicians on all sides compete to spread the gospel. And so, in the UK and elsewhere, there's been massive investment in public sector 'improvement', 'customer choice' has been increased and new targets have been set and refined.
But our experience is that things haven't changed much. This is because governments have invested in the wrong things. Belief in targets, incentives and inspection; belief in economies of scale and shared back-office services; belief in 'deliverology'… these are all wrong-headed ideas and yet they have underpinned this governments attempts to reform the public sector.
John Seddon here dissects the changes that have been made in a range of services, including housing benefits, social care and policing. His descriptions beggar belief, though they would be funnier if it wasn't our money that was being wasted.
In place of the current mess, he advocates a Systems Thinking approach where individuals come first, waste is reduced and responsibility replaces blame. It's an approach that is proven, successful and relatively cheap - and one that governments around the world, and their advisers, need to adopt urgently.
What do readers say about this book? return to top
"This is the must-have book. It correctly identifies why the present regime is failing our citizens and customers, but more importantly it gives the reader a proven method by which to bring about real improvement in service performance and cost."
Dr Carlton Brand, Director of Resources, Wiltshire County Council.
"John Seddon's approach is refreshing and a compelling alternative to the routine mantras we regularly receive through official sources. More importantly, it works."
Andrew Pate, Director of Resources and Support Services, Bath and North East Somerset
"John Seddon, at his charismatic best, examines the inefficiencies embedded in the public sector and highlights an alternative and pragmatic approach to effective reform. Based on tried and tested principles it is an approach that is evidence-based, something the current inspection regime continually demands, so why is the take up so slow? Perhaps it is the fear culture so prominent in the current centralised command-and-control bureaucracy that is government".
John van de Laarschot, Chief Executive, Torridge District Council
"Challenging and thought-provoking. An essential read for managers seeking to place people who receive services at the centre of improvement work. But be prepared to set aside existing conventions and practices and to test the ideas presented against actual experience".
Margaret Geary, Strategic Director for Health, Housing and Social Care, Portsmouth City Council.
"A wake-up call for people who want to make a real difference. This book puts flesh on the notion of Public Value, providing practical ways to develop personalised services, efficiently and effectively".
Ron Hilton, Chief Executive, Staffordshire County Council.
"A refreshing deconstruction of the control freakery of the current performance regime. It could do for thinking on business improvement what "An Inconvenient Truth" has done for climate change. It takes the argument to the deliveroligists and uses informed analysis and sometimes acidic rhetoric to debunk the command and control paradigm."
Andrew Grant, Chief Executive, Aylesbury Vale District Council
"This should be essential reading for every national and local politician, every public servant or indeed anyone who cares about public services. It describes and explains how command-and-control thinking is having a devastating effect on our public services but more importantly identifies how we can go about putting it right! A cracking read from the first page to the last."
Steve Greenfield, County Trading Standards Officer, Suffolk County Council.
"Irrespective of whether you're concerned about the quality of public services that you're responsible for, take John's challenge, go look at your service through new eyes. I guarantee that what you find will shock you, but at least you'll finally know. It's a compelling place to start.'
Philip Dart, Head of Public Protection Services, Buckinghamshire County Council.
"Once we understood demand and the causes of waste, we could improve our services. Customers, staff and the council taxpayer benefit from systems thinking. If only this was more widely and consistently applied, the public sector would be that much healthier. John Seddon shows us the route to take"
David Hagg, Chief Executive, Stroud District Council.
"This book is uncomfortable, challenging and very direct. It offers huge learning and insight. It is buttock-clenching in places. It stimulates different thinking and methods that should be strongly encouraged and welcomed in the pursuit of excellent public services. A superb read."
David McQuade, Deputy Chief Executive, Flagship Housing Group.
"John Seddon has an impressive grasp of the complexities of Local Authority services. This book sees through the confusing fog and provides insights on how to structure and deliver services in a simple and effective way."
Gillian Brown, Leader, Arun District Council
"Seven years with the Housing Corporation taught me there was something systemically wrong with housing regulation. This book brings those shortcomings into embarrassingly sharp relief but, thankfully, provides a way for an urgently needed transformation."
Yvonne Hutchinson, Managing Director, Community Chameleon
"This book provides the public sector with the means to not only deliver higher levels of public value but also the opportunity to be seen to be doing so and in a robust way, with measurable results, high customer satisfaction and high morale."
Jim Mather MSP, Scottish Government Minister for Enterprise, Energy & Tourism
"Few books are eponymous, in the sense that they come to define a new era. I can only hope that this passionate, yet informed, critique on the limitations of public sector management becomes one of them".
Duncan Kerr, Chief Executive, South Kesteven District Council.
"If ministers, local authority leaders and chief executives only read one book this year this is it. A true beacon of sanity in an increasingly insane regime; ministers should read this and recognise the error of their ways."
Mark Radford, Director of Corporate Services, Swale District Council.
"This book should be compulsory reading for all leading politicians and senior executives in public service. John Seddon's extensive knowledge and practical experience of waste in the public sector is expressed in powerful terms. Not only do members of the public receive rotten service but millions of pounds of tax payers' money are being misused. This book presents a massive challenge. It is one that must be faced if ever there is to be genuine reform and improvement in the standard of public services."
Tony Owen, Councillor, London Borough of Bromley.
"As a public-sector manager you get caught up in the 'targets industry', worrying about meeting targets and securing resources to do so. When you learn to take a systems approach you see the folly of your ways: extra resources are unnecessary if you learn to do the job properly - giving citizens what they need. It is common sense, but only when you 'see' it."
Jackie Tavener, Head of Customer Relations, North Wiltshire District Council
"As always, John is thought-provoking and excellent at reminding you why you came into public service in the first place; how easy it is to get sucked into doing things which so often don't make a blind bit of difference to residents and if anything, all they serve to do is make residents dissatisfied, complacent, and put up with service which could be dramatically better and cost less!"
Marie Fallon, Director of Regeneration, Newcastle City Council
"An essential read for all senior managers in the public sector. John Seddon's new book highlights the enormous amount of waste produced by the current orthodoxy on the management of the public sector, and with great clarity proposes an alternative that actually works."
Tim Blanch, Chief Executive, Swansea Housing Association
"Anyone reading this book is forced to question our obsession in the public sector with target chasing. The examples we are taken through speak for themselves and clearly highlight where we are going wrong. It has the potential to significantly influence our thinking and should be compulsory reading for all public sector managers"
Ged Bowles, Assistant Director for Improvement Services, West Midlands Improvement and Efficiency Partnership
"The Vanguard Method really does work. It was refreshing to get away from the target-focussed culture of government and get knowledge and understanding, to design systems to deliver what really matters to the customer. In taking this approach significant performance improvements have been made across the organisation and the government targets look after themselves."
Ian Jamieson, Corporate Director, West Wiltshire District Council
Other titles by John Seddon:
Freedom from Command and Control: a better way to make the work work
I want you to cheat
The case against ISO 9000.