Quote of the week

“If there is gravy at city hall, it’s the stuff being paid to consultants to come up with this kind of stuff.”

— Toronto Councillor Adam Vaughan

Editor’s Corner

It looks like a major salvo in the political right’s desire to save money in the public sector has been fired by a KPMG core services review for the City of Toronto’s Public Works Standing Committee. The review provides cost savings recommendations for Toronto water, solid waste management, transportation and technical services.

The proposals fall into three categories: service standards, use of the private sector and rethinking the government value proposition.

On the service level front, it recommends that process improvements be put in place to reach acceptable service standards for a number of functions such as land surveys. This is a good idea; process improvements can save 5% to 10% if done right.

On the increased use of the private sector, it proposes outsourcing tasks such as garbage collection, grass cutting and facility security. This too can work, as has been demonstrated by other municipalities.

You have to wonder, though, about the ideas for savings that could be called “government value proposition” proposals. The report notes that 30% of services are delivered at above standard, adding with a straight face that this offers “opportunities for cost reduction by lowering the service level provided.”

It then tables some areas where services could be cut back, recommending Toronto consider reducing “snow plowing and snow removal standards on residential streets,” cutting back on the amount of bicycle infrastructure being developed and “eliminating the fluoridation of Toronto water.”

So this is the debate: what exactly is the value proposition for (in this case) municipal government? What are reasonable citizen expectations about the level of civic services? Is the issue simply one of the size and cost of government, transforming big and expensive to small and cheap? Or is it really about making sure government has the capacity to ensure that what has to be done for citizens occurs efficiently and effectively?

This debate is going to be played out across the country at all levels of government.