The newest gem to land in Toronto's lap is a report on where services can be cut back to save money
- you can read the report yourself here - the city has kindly posted the PDF for all to see
According to NOW Magazine, the report cost $300,000, which suggests a 1000 hour job if the consultants charged about $300 an hour to do the work. That's just a wild guesstimate, but scale the hours and hourly rate accordingly based on how much work you think it took to put this report together.
It's not surprising, if NOW's math is to be correct, that only $15 million of savings has been identified, however, considering the majority of the findings in the report are in the "low" savings category, which means it'll save us 5% or less.
Did the consultants correctly identify the risk associated with publishing a report where they were going to draw the ire of everyone from cyclists to dentists?
Who angers dentists, seriously? Candy companies.
And global consultancies, apparently.
Go to page 9 of the 44 page report. Oh. They went there. Didn't anyone say, "hey, perhaps people will openly mock and ridicule us - for years - if we come out on the side of the tinfoil-hat wearing anti-fluoride lobby?" If no one did, they should have. If you read the comments on Torontoist, you'll find that there are some people who cheer that point. Perhaps these are their brothers-in-arms. Let's say you agree with the suggestion.
My main problem with the fluoride point is that it's such a marginal cost saving area. Most of them are - the majority of cost, KPMG astutely points out, comes from repairing our aging watermain infrastructure.
So where did all this effort go? As the Torontoist suggests, the report was crippled from the start by its design, which involved comparing programs and identifying programs that could be cut.
Why oh why is no one given the unenviable but suitably EPIC task of going into the nitty gritty of government departments and identifying areas where actual efficiency in program design would lead to real savings? After all, that's exactly what the city's citizens mistakenly thought they would get when they handed the keys to the city to Rob Ford. Instead, we get a smokescreen that suggests increasing the amount of smoke in the air by starting a war on bike lanes will save money.
Yet look at this post on one of the most infamous new bike lanes in the city - clearly the traffic patterns of the city are not being destroyed by bikes getting a dedicated space. I try to bike as often as I can, but sometimes client work at far-flung locations means I'm in the car. When I see a series of a dozen or more cyclists, I don't whinge. I'm glad to see them. If they were all in cars, you'd have another dozen cars in front of you, setting back your trip by 5 or 15 minutes depending on how poorly timed the traffic lights are!
Let's go back to the other idea. The stereotype of the 'lousy bean counter.' It rears its head when the report writers encourage the city to charge organizers of street festivals higher fees to "recoup costs." This is a frighteningly simplistic suggestion to make. Frightening because some city councillors may think it's a good idea. And simplistic because it only looks at revenue generate from permitting a street closure for a massive festival.
What about the spinoff benefits? A city with more festivals is a more attractive place to visit. Taste of Little Italy, Taste of the Danforth, BuskerFest, and the like. These events increase tourism, increases revenues for businesses poised to capitalize on the festivities, and generally makes the city a more enjoyable place to live in. Perhaps the larger events I mentioned could survive a higher fee. But smaller festivals like the Ukranian and Polish street festivals are just getting off the ground. Stiff them with higher fees, and inhibit their growth. Or watch only well-heeled corporations be able to afford the fees to participate and underwrite the events. And forget about grassroots organizations getting new events started. A high start-up fee will spell death for the innovation that ultimately spawns fun new events.
I really get upset when a bunch of accountants take a short-sighted look at "costs" without matching them to the associated "benefits." It's simply unfortunate, to put it mildly.
Speaking of mildness, be sure to check out page 21 in the report. Although there's the sound of crickets chirping in the accompanying news coverage, some more attention should be paid, as KPMG does a good job of pointing out a service that is "below standard." It's a shame that the conclusion is so weak. If you say something is not being done properly and should be fixed, say it.
Don't say "Technical Services generally does not meet its performance standards and may benefit from process improvement to achieve service level standards."
"May benefit?" Come on now. How about, "it's broken, so fix it"?
Reports have to be delivered in the language of "professionals," but that sentence screams of that very not-yummy condiment, "weaksauce."
Speaking of weaksauce, I'd like to meet the designer of a style guide who doesn't insist on defining technical acronyms. I'm sure a few experts will know what you mean when you're talking about "Utility ABC", but to the average reader, using the term "ABC" without a definition is just sloppy writing. They use the acronym twice in the report without defining it.
I'm sure there's a more detailed report in addition to this "Summary" that was issued for the benefit of the related Standing Committee to gloss over. It's a shame it wasn't shared with us, because the summary was mulched to the point of sour disappointment.
Do you feel like the city just got taken for a ride?