Sharp fall in public services productivity – Adult social care down 5.6%

Productivity of public services dipped sharply in 2008 despite a spurt of government spending in Gordon Brown’s first full year as prime minister, first official estimates have suggested.

After modest rises in productivity in both 2006 and 2007, the measure calculated by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) is shown to have fallen by 0.9% in 2008. The biggest contributor to the fall by sector was adult social care.

The ONS is cautioning that its figures will be subject to revision and that its whole approach to measuring public services productivity remains “experimental” and under development.

Nevertheless, the initial findings for 2008 will provide further fuel for critics of Brown’s premiership and for coalition government ministers seeking to justify spending cutbacks.

The productivity measure used by the ONS sets outputs of public services, such as NHS operations and GCSE grades, against inputs of labour, materials and capital assets. Outputs are at present not assessed for about a third of services including police and defence, however.

In 2008, inputs are estimated to have grown by 2.8% and outputs by 1.9%, producing a fall in productivity of 0.9%.

Adult social care is estimated to have suffered a productivity fall of 5.6% in 2008. However, the ONS says this figure should be treated very gingerly, as it makes no allowance for quality of care services, rising levels of need or the growing numbers of people receiving support at home.

Productivity falls are also shown for education (down 1.1%), healthcare (down 0.6%) and “public order and safety” (also down 0.6%). Children’s social care is shown to have been down 6.0%, but its impact on the overall picture is slight because it is a relatively small sector in spending terms.

An increase in productivity is shown to have been achieved by social security administration, up 4.5%.

For the period 1997-2008, the ONS says public services inputs grew 41.5%, or 3.2% a year, and outputs grew 36.8%, or 2.9% annually. Productivity is therefore said to have fallen by 0.3% a year.

Although such figures are often contrasted poorly with productivity estimates for the private sector, the ONS stresses that it is still seeking ways better to quantify the value of public services.