When Mark Twain famously said there are “Lies, damned lies, and statistics,” he quite possibly may not have heard of Harrow Council, although it’s not inconceivable that he visited in his tour of Europe in 1867. But enough of the history, let’s look at how Harrow Council is measuring just how Bloody Great it thinks itself is.
The council publishes a performance chart every quarter, and floods it – as is the norm these days – in red and green. The more green, the better it looks, and Lockwood, always hunting down his next award, does indeed like green on his reports. But if your council isn’t doing terribly well, and missing the targets it sets for itself, what can you do? Well, you lower the target, of course. You make life easier. And you brush all the pain under the carpet.
As an example (there are many more, but here’s a random selection):
Quitting smoking: The council sets a target for it’s own Smoking Cessation service to have 720 people stay off the weed for four weeks. In Q4 2014/15, only 580 managed that. That gave a result of a High Red (ie: very bad). So rather than try to get more people to quit, the council just dropped the target for Q3 2015/16. To 100 people. And amazingly, despite the number of quitters dropped by 80%, the council managed to squeeze in with a High Green (ie: very good) because 110 people quit.
Or another one. Number of eligible people receiving health checks. Original target was 6450, and yet only 4718 did that. So, the council drops the target to 1000, and when 1334 people get those checks, all of a sudden, the grading lurches from a High Red to a High Green.
Scandalous, isn’t it?
Another: Outcome of Short term NHS Services. Original target 55%, but only 51% on the scorecard. Result, a a Low Red. Next measurement, the target has dropped to 50.60% (a strange target, clearly designed to land just below the previous score) and the result was 55%, thus a High Green. Folks: we’re paying for this!
But where’s the sense of challenge, or stretch, of improvement? Well, it’s not there, really. In another KPI, the council has given up trying to do well, and just, well, laid down and napped: Number of household to who we have accepted a homelessness duty. Original target 281. Result: 375. Following year’s target: amazingly, it’s 375, but the score was 514. Even when the council fudges it’s very own targets, it still misses.