This week's flash fiction story was first published in The Guardian. At it's heart are the delicate balances and difficult decisions faced by many people commissioning services. It's also Friday, so having a take-away seemed somehow appropriate.
Chicken Chow Mein for the Soul
It had been a big day for Stephanie; the sort of day that deserved a celebratory beer and a Chinese takeaway; the sort of day that came very rarely for a hard-working but underappreciated social care commissioner. After eight months she was about to deliver a new home care contract for the council.
Whereas previously some areas of the borough had had spotty coverage, there would now be multiple providers in every area and, most importantly, Stephanie had saved the council an incredible £3 for each hour of care delivered. It was no wonder she had been roundly congratulated, so why didn’t it feel quite right?
Just five years out of university, Stephanie was committed, intelligent and ambitious. Admittedly it was a sign of the times that someone so young had been asked to lead this crucial piece of work, but she had done well and a promotion was on the cards, so why hadn’t she ordered her chicken chow mein yet?
At the back of her mind she knew why. Although the contract was a great deal for the council and therefore the local tax payer, the companies providing the care would need to find a way to absorb those cost-savings and that meant paying their staff even less.
They had to cover administration charges, management overheads, travel costs, holiday pay, sick pay, pension contributions and a small amount of profit out of that hourly payment, which left very little for the people actually delivering the care. This nagged away at the young local government worker; the people looking after people like her sick grandma were now going to be paid a lot less.
Had she struck the right balance? She wasn’t sure, but she did know she hadn’t had a choice and she’d enabled the council to deliver the most significant savings in the history of local government without taking services from the vulnerable people they served.
It was big day and Stephanie ordered her chow mein and had her beer. She’d done a good job and deserved it. It just didn’t quite taste as sweet as she had hoped.
Gareth Young is Business Partner at the London Borough of Merton (and co-author of the WeLoveLocalGov blog)