The perceived Achilles heal of delegation of responsibility is accountability.
An example of the issue of accountability is the suggestion that responsibility for the content of education should be delegated to an independent body. An urgent question to be addressed is how delegation of management can be achieved without government losing control over whether funds are being used appropriately, or providing value for tax-payer's money.
1. Government Role
The government is elected to carry out three functions: to develop the structures of society, to provide services that are more efficient to provide centrally, and to create a fairer distribution of the gains of society.
In respect of services, the government has the responsibility to direct taxpayers funds sensibly. The role should be one of oversight. Government ministers generally lack the capacity to manage the services, so should not do so.
The challenge is how can the government allow management to be delegated, yet act appropriately if the service is not being provided effectively or cost-effectively.
The base point for accountability is reporting. Create clear objectives and create feedback that allows assessment of how well the objective is met. This hangs on being clear on the objective and understanding how the objective can be achieved. Governments are able to decide on strategic objectives for the services it commissions. Experts are needed to decide on specific goals, objectives and processes. The people managing the service need to agree the reporting criteria that is appropriate for the strategic objective.
A second requirement is an assessment of cost-effectiveness of the service. Government needs to assess whether the total cost of the service is warranted by what is delivered. If not, it needs either to become more realistic in its expectations, or appoint new people to run the service.
Problems of delegation with accountability
a) If the strategic objectives are unclear, it is not possible to account properly for the service
b) If the agreed criteria for reporting are inappropriate, the service may be misdirected
c) If the managers misrepresent the numbers, the government assessment will be faulty
Problem of delegation without accountability
The desired objectives may not be met, and funds may be mis-allocated
Problem of non-delegation
The people who manage the service are not competent to doing so, with no-one remaining to assess their performance.
Potential inefficiencies arising from the difficulties of establishing effective oversight are dwarfed by the probable inefficiencies of failing to delegate management.