A Service Review is useful. But this list of already-known information didn’t require spending big dollars to produce.
As phase two of KPMG’s Core Services Review report [PDF] was released today, and many more are still to come, it’s too early to completely rule out the possibility that it will identify some areas where significant savings are possible. It hasn’t yet (brief recap: in two departments so far, 96 per cent of services are either required or essential, but cutting things like snow plowing and flouridating water and economic development could save us insignificant amounts of money), but it could.
But what is obvious now is that the report itself is a complete waste of taxpayer dollars. Let me explain.
Some people are already objecting that things like water fluoridation are even listed as possible cuts. But I think there’s some value in compiling a list like this. If we want to have a debate about what services we might want to cut and which ones we might not want to cut, it’s useful to start by listing all the things that it is possible to cut. That way we know what we’re talking about, and we know how much money we’re talking about potentially saving. In the case of Public Works, KPMG reports that from a budget of $1 billion, it is only possible to cut about $10-$15 million. Okay, that’s useful information for beginning a discussion.
Further, it’s useful to have someone explain on that list what the services in question are, and what risks we face if we cut them (e.g.,: cutting water fluoridation has a high risk of lowering public health). And then explaining what the obstacles to cutting them might be.
So the exercise itself has value. But: the city has paid KPMG $350,000 for this study, conducted over eight weeks. That is a tremendous waste of money. Because there is absolutely nothing in the report that a bright university student couldn’t have compiled in one week if they were given a copy of the City Budget and an internet connection.
The report answers four essential questions: What does the city spend money on? Which of those things is it required to spend money on by provincial legislation? Which other things are absolutely essential to the functioning of the city? What are the risks and obstacles involved in cutting what’s left over?
None of this is hidden or surprising information. Forget a university student with an internet connection: I’m sure City Manager Joe Pennachetti could have dictated the list from memory over the course of a couple afternoons.
I suspect that most of us thought that the city might hire consultants to apply specialized management expertise to identify inefficiency: Doug Ford is famously an adherent to the Lean Six Sigma business management strategy, for example, and perhaps high-priced consultants would study how city workers do their jobs and suggest ways they could do the same work faster, better and with fewer costs. Or executives from Toyota might come in and teach the principles of The Toyota Way, the famous model of efficiency and innovation that allowed that company to become a corporate collosus. And maybe that would make the city work better. They may still do something like that. And if those consultants actually deliver better ways to do things, while saving money doing it, then that will be money well spent. (I’m not saying we should or should not do it—just that it’s conceivable to see how it could be valuable.)
But this report we have in hand? It appears to me that we have paid $350,000 for the simple task of compiling a big list of commonly available information into charts so that we can begin a decision-making process. I cannot see why that task was worth more than a few thousand dollars. Salaried staff of the city could have done it for no additional cost at all.
What else could we have done as a city with $350,000? I don’t know. But the 30 different organizations that run festivals and special events in the city that Rob Ford just voted to de-fund do all of their work with a combined city grant of $97,500. The 22 community safety organizations Rob Ford just voted to de-fund do all of their work with a combined city grant of $665,600. Or, you know, we could have hired a high-priced Lean Six Sigma efficiency expert at an executive-level salary to come work for the city for a year to teach every department the principles and then report on ways to streamline processes without compromising quality. Different people would make different suggestions.
But anything would be better than just wasting it. Which is what we’ve done.