The dangers of getting things done

Pragmatism can be a cover for so many wrongs. It starts out as just cutting through the red tape but ends up justifying prejudice, discrimination, and self interest. 

Pragmatism in the public sector is recognising there is no choice but to, outsource services, reduce management posts, make redundancies, remove services we can no longer afford, lower expectations we can no longer meet, target limited resources on the few, shrink the more expensive public sector make more use of the cheaper private sector to provide public services. 

Pragmatism in local government means reducing the stifling bureaucracy and unblocking the political stalemate that results from conflicting interests, diverse communities, powerful lobby groups and the need to get a consensus. Put one person in charge give them the power and hold them accountable and things will get done. That's the thinking behind elected Mayors in a maximum devolution local government set up. Cut through the frustrating red tape, dispense with the delaying bureaucratic procedures and cut short the endless debates. But what really happens when a city adopts a culture of pragmatism ?

Red tape is just another way of saying bureaucracy and the definition of bureaucracy is a set of rules and procedures to ensure fair and open allocation/ rationing of resources be it council houses or school places. Bureaucracy means being open in the tendering of contacts and the making of planning decisions. Remove these safe guards and you open the system to corruption and the suspicion of corruption. 
Sections of the community start to complain that their needs are being neglected, their voice is not being heard, that there is no meaningful consultation with groups affected by decisions, that too much business is done behind closed doors, that economic growth and jobs are bi passing minority groups, that the gentrification of parts of the city is forcing long standing communities out, people become suspicious of how social housing is allocated claiming favouritism or discrimination, that the improved transport infrastructure favours commuters  from the affluent suburbs but leaves many inner city areas poorly served, relations between the police and ethnic minority groups deteriorate as some crimes and some areas appear to be prioritised over others.
Pragmatism  is increasingly driving our approach to local government in the face of on going austerity. If your budgets is cut you have to find other ways.
Pragmatism always starts off as a way of cutting through the red tape, reducing the bureaucracy ,getting things done and being more efficient and effective but always ends up undermining the safe guards to transparent, fair and honest local government. 

Blair McPherson former director of community services, author and blogger 


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