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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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Thursday, February 4, 2010

Consensus and Sensibility

By Henry Kippin

I read an interesting paper this morning from the journal Nature – a bit leftfield of my usual reading, but totally relevant to mainstream politics and public services. It made me think.  Yesterday I wrote (well, I copied Martin Wolf anyway) about the challenges of consensus building, and the implications for long term economic policymaking.  The suggestion was that, now that party politicking is back in full swing in the run-up to the election, generating necessary consensus on some serious big issues will be nigh on impossible.

At the same time, we are gasping for such a consensus on some of them – as recent debates over the future funding of social care and our strategic defence planning have shown. 

At the 2020 Commission, we have talked about the need to generate a new consensus on the need for a 21st century blueprint for public services.  The hope of consensus lies behind the very idea of a cross-party commission, and, whilst the development is difficult, the impact is hopefully broader, more powerful and more coherent…. 

Anyway, this article – by Dan Kahan – offers some reasons why consensus is difficult to find.  Cultural cognition – which is the ‘influence of group values…on risk perception and related beliefs’ skew our perceptions of policy, meaning that we ‘endorse whichever position reinforces (our) connection to others with whom (we) share important commitments’.  Bluntly, we have pack mentalities, which magnifies difference and ‘polarises’ debate in artificial ways.   

This might seem obvious to anyone who follows a sports team, but the author also reflects on how these polarised mentalities can often push at the same outcomes (though maybe not in sport):

“citizens who hold opposing cultural outlooks are in fact rooting for the same outcome: the health, safety and economic well-being of their society.”

And he concludes that:

“We need to learn more about how to present information in forms that are agreeable to culturally diverse groups, and how to structure debate so that it avoids cultural polarization.

If we want democratic policy-making to be backed by the best available science, we need a theory of risk communication that takes full account of the effects of culture on our decision-making.”

Easier said than done for sure, especially when the means to achieve outcomes can be as contested as the outcomes themselves.  For instance, all parties responded to the Hills review of inequality with similar horror, but the strategies they use to address the problems it highlights will certainly differ.

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