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The 2020 Public Services Trust Blog

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Guest blog by Sir Andrew Foster Chair of the Commission on 2020 Public Services

By Ashish Prashar

“This evening the Commission on 2020 Public Services – of which I am Chair – launches its Interim Report: ‘Beyond Beveridge: principles for 2020 public services’.  The report is the culmination of a long period of discussion, deliberation and, ultimately, agreement.  We are a diverse commission, representing many political, professional and personal backgrounds.  That we have come together with a common voice is surely significant.

This interim agreement at a moment of crisis for public services is what makes the recommendations of our Commission worth considering.  All 20 Commissioners agree that narrow critiques inevitably find their way to narrow solutions.  So our critique is broad; and our vision for the future is positive and coherent.  Short-term solutions to the debt crisis dominate the press.  So our report looks to the longer term – arguing that short-term decision making must be underpinned by deliberate and strategic principle.

Ultimately, the Commission is about finding a way to develop public services that do better by the people who most rely on them.  We believe in public services as things we all benefit from.  But outcomes are failing some citizens.  The structural basis of our system – designed by William Beveridge in his 1942 report – is no longer adequate for the new world we live in.

Today’s report sets out the Commission’s interim findings.  We lay out a positive vision for public services, and some building blocks to get us there.  Our own next steps involve grounding these principles in the real lives of citizens and those who work in public services.  We will present our final recommendations in summer this year.”

Together with its interim report, the 2020 Public Services Trust is publishing an essay by Professor Howard Glennerster entitled Financing the United Kingdom’s Welfare States and a report prepared by Ipsos MORI called What do people want, need and expect from public services. Professor Glennerster’s essay reveals the extent of the hole in our public finances and advocates partnership approaches between the state and citizens to fund public services. The report by Ipsos MORI uses the most up to date quantitative and qualitative research to explore the public’s priorities and anxieties and suggests how the relationship between citizens and their services might change in the future. These papers have enriched the Commission’s understanding of the context in which it operates – from the perspective of citizens, and with the country’s delicate fiscal situation in mind.

Two major new reports follow these publications.  Online or In-Line: The Future of Information Technology in the Public Services is a report exploring both the opportunities technology can create for public service reform as well as the associated risks, coming out this Friday. On March 23rd, check our website for Delivering a Localist Future: a route-map for change which assesses the practical barriers to achieving the frequently debated, often promised and never delivered localism, and suggests ways to overcome those challenges.

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  1. Why am I commenting here?
    I am concentrating, time permitting, on an analysis of the barriers to good IT provision to the Government using my knowledge of one supplier into that space and inferring many observed problems exist across the field.
    It is not easy to gain an audience for this discussion, but it is one that needs to take place and key organisations of influence should be aware of.
    I concentrate on software only in my analysis.
    I believe there are billions of annual budget at stake that a rational IT process could save the exchequer. I believe that this saving, far from starving the IT industry would benefit it. This, really is my starting point.
    The IT industry is not healthy in this country and this is directly the result of the careless way in which IT spend is made through government.
    There are some horrific figures involved, the annual spend on IT of which one third is probably on software. The amount of overspend and time overruns, of which I expect in all a great deal more than a third is attributable to software. The amount of failure in delivery or partial delivery.
    Very unfortunately this government has been (over) spending as a result of political imperative. What is unfortunate about this is, at least, that it is not possible to spend beyond a certain rate without causing terrific turbulence. This turbulence manifest, in the area with which I am familiar, in bad spending decisions that are compounded by little or no monitoring.
    I believe there are other areas where spending has been constrained and where this money would have been better placed, or, perhaps it should not have been spent in the first place. All of that is beyond what I can sensibly consider with the particular focus I have.
    I want to draw attention to these issues because to wrest software from the malaise of poor practice and lack of innovation that characterises government projects and to allow innovation, something that is native to this field, to thrive, the government and its Civil Service need to wrest control back from their suppliers. This, inevitably, will be a complex process, were there to be the will for it.
    It is clear that this Labour government followed in the steps of the Conservative government they took over from by asserting the power of the ‘big’. Big, centrally controlled, contracts may seem to be achieving what is their stated purpose, and have the political advantage of being identifiable for the department and minister responsible. Unfortunately this strategy has been, not to put too finer point on it, catastrophic.
    I am very interested in this point and shall take it up on my blog.
    At the moment my blog assemblies various postings I have made and offers some more detailed analysis of what is actually going wrong and why no one at present has a solution. These are complex issues.
    I take as some of my raw material what ever I can glean on the subject from a few other blogs, and the different parties announcements.
    At the moment I am working my way through a proposal to change IT delivery provided by the Centre for Technology Policy Research who have done a reasonable job on it.
    I examine their proposal, which, by its nature is more political, in the light of my actual experience, showing how no mere proposal alone, nor the bodies normally selected to enact such proposals, would suffice to bring about the changes I envisage.
    As I have said, this is a complex subject, as can be seen from this already lengthy comment that really just highlights a few central issues.
    My blog, more a personal note book, seems to be written by some strange sounding people. It is just a joke, which I explain elsewhere. If it is started to be read – at the moment it isn’t – I may migrate it to a better home.

    My blog is currently found at:-
    which shows a list of the most recent posts, the ones relevant to this discussion are over the last one or two weeks.

    Comment by Adam Saltiel — March 17, 2010 @ 12:50 am

  2. I was interested to read Sir Andrew Foster’s article about the values that may inform public services. Infact, I would tend to disagree that “changing times demand a new approach” (Foster 2010: 7) but it may well be that we just need to promote the skills in workers which foster these core features.

    My particular interest lies in combating inequality in Children’s services; a (early years) practitioner role which John Denham (CLG 2010) recently suggests needs extra input to embrace a joined-up approach..

    In 2005, referring to plans to address poverty and social exclusion in the UK:

    The Government’s strategy starts from enduring Beveridge principles: that the family is the bedrock of society; that nothing should be done to remove from parents their responsibilities to their children; and that it is in the national interest to help parents meet their responsibilities (HM Treasury/DfES 2005: 1)

    So agency, empowerment, autonomy and participation remain important but people who work at the chalk-face of public services need skills, competence and the confidence to engage and connect with children and their families; addressing inequality face on.

    In parallel, and coincidently in the same copy (Guardian 2010), we are informed about some of the qualities needed to be a care worker; these include a real empathy, care for others, warmth and friendliness. They also highlight that being an introvert, as well, is not a weakness but a strength; the skill of sensitive and timely intervention.

    My point here is that we probably don’t need to radically change the principles but ensure, through quality investment in training and education, that appropriate and thoroughly-thought-through front-line services are offered with all people who will, inevitably, touch public services sometime in their lives.

    CLG (Communities and Local Government) (2010) Tackling Race inequality….Foreward by John Denham London CLG
    Foster A (2010) Bringing Beveridge up to speed Guardian 17th March
    Guardian (2010) Are you a natural? Society Guardian 17th March
    HM Treasury/DfES (2005) Support for Parents: the best start for children Norwich HMSO

    Andrew Sanders
    Senior Lecturer – Early Childhood Studies
    University of Derby

    March 2010

    Comment by Andrew Sanders — March 22, 2010 @ 4:00 pm

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