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The 2020 Public Services Trust Blog

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Longer term perspective

By Charlotte Alldritt

It’s been a busy week in UK politics: Prime Minister David Cameron defended top-up fees to the tune of 50,000 students rioting in central London; Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Ian Duncan Smith revealed new sanctions for claimants of unemployment benefit and, ahead of the G20 meeting in South Korea, Bank of England governor Mervyn King warned of the threat to our economy if chronic global imbalances persist.  Amidst all of this, the 2020 PST and RSA brought together scores of public, private and voluntary sector leaders at our Public Services Summit on Tuesday.

Sir Andrew Foster, Chair of the 2020 Commission, highlighted the timeliness of our focus: at this time of fiscal austerity, threats to our public services from cuts are at the top of the political agenda.  The ‘phoney war’ on budgets is set to launch a real offensive.  More than this (and despite genuine efforts from frontline professionals, managers and politicians) the ‘long tails’ of underperformance have left us falling short of what we want, expect and need from our public services.  Public services need to be redesigned so that they are fit for lives we lead and the society we want to create in the 21st Century.

In his keynote speech to the 2020PST/RSA Summit, Rt Hon Francis Maude MP set out the Government’s three-pronged approach to transforming public service delivery:

  1. Channel shift – moving more public services online (e.g. building on the success of the online DVLA vehicle tax renewal, initially to transactional services such as Student Loans and some welfare benefits);
  2. Mutuals – enabling service professionals and users to take a real stake in their public service organisations, unlocking the energy and innovation of ‘entrepreneurial frontline’ staff (e.g. Central Surrey Health); and,
  3. Payment by results – paying providers (of any and every type) for the outcomes they achieve, not pre-funding them so they have limited incentives to aspire to more efficient and effective social outcomes (e.g. Single Work Programme and rehabilitation of offenders).

The 2020 Public Services Trust has examined each of these throughout the course of our research programme.  Our Final Report, ‘From social security to social productivity’ calls for implementation of all three in some form.

But as always, the questions on my mind come back to accountability.  Francis Maude referred to the other big announcement of this busy political week – that of our ‘revolution’ in transparency and the relationship between citizen and the state.  But here the overwhelming consensus at the Summit, in Westminster, and beyond (for the need for change) starts to break down.  Lord Andrew Adonis said that recent announcements did not represent a redrawing of the lines between citizen and the state; “For as long as the State pays for services, Government will be held to account.  If the Government doesn’t set indicators/targets, the media will.”  Matthew Taylor quoted some of the more obscure passages from one of the departmental business plans (published on Monday), designed to enable citizens to monitor and scrutinise Government more closely.

Number 10’s Transparency website is a welcomed start to what will be one of the most interesting and important questions for our democratic society: how do we – the public – engage with our Government and public services?  It is a question that speaks to the availability of quality data; the provision and interpretation of information; mechanisms for citizen/user feedback and redress; public trust in politicians, and, the legitimacy and efficacy of our political system.   These challenges of governance and society have been with us since time immemorial; as was the aim of 2020 PST and our Commission, they give a single busy week a longer term perspective.

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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

A recipe for transformation

By Lauren Cumming

1 cup new opportunities created by evolving technology, 1 cup long-term demand crisis driven by ageing population, ½ cup sense of urgency created by current fiscal crisis… This morning 2020 PST launched 2020 Vision: A far-sighted approach to transforming public services. The report draws on the work of the Commission to date which has developed a positive, long-term vision for the future of public services and analysed the shifts in culture, power and finance that need to take place to achieve that vision. 2020 Vision goes a step further by examining the implications of the Commission’s vision for setting the priorities for public action, redesigning services to create more public value and ensuring accountability. The report then discusses the barriers impeding transformation and steps that can be taken to increase the chances of success.

Working on this project has been very challenging. In many ways, it is not difficult to point to the shortcomings in our public services, or say things like, “Can’t they just ________ (provide good services everywhere, put that online, train people better)?” Even understanding the factors within the system that block change is relatively straightforward. But to find the right levers to unlock resistance to change – well, if it were easy someone would have done it before me. This report does not pretend to have all the answers – transforming public services is too complicated for one report to cover all the ground. I think the biggest contribution of 2020 Vision is to propose a framework for thinking about how to make change, by asking:

  • What is our vision for the future? Where are we trying to go?
  • What conditions need to be in place for that to happen?
  • What are the barriers to those conditions?
  • What are the actions that we could take, in the short, medium and long term, in society and at various levels of government, to remove those barriers and create the conditions needed for change?

As this morning’s discussion made clear, the time for transformation is now. A new coalition government and the fiscal crisis are creating the necessary momentum for major change. As respondent Stephen Dorrell argued, this is not just about deciding how much the public are willing to pay, this is about creating public services that meet the needs of citizens today. These are questions we should be asking ourselves even if we had all the money in the world to spend on public services. Now is the moment to take some risks, be innovative and transform public services so they can meet the challenges ahead.

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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The disconnect between voters and politicians on public services…

By Ben Lucas

Today we are releasing headline findings from detailed focus group research which we commissioned Ipsos-MORI to carry out into attitudes to public service reform.  These are based on 13 discussion groups with a range of ethnicities and socio economic groups weighted towards regular service users in 5 English Towns and Cities: Ashford, Kent; Stockport; Oxford; Birmingham; and London.  The full report will be published in early May.

Public service reform is the flip side of the deficit and rising demand pressures.  On all these issues there is a reality gap, which politicians of all parties haven’t dared to address.  Those hoping that the election campaign would close this gap by introducing specific and realistic plans for cutting the deficit and for paying for and running public services have so far been disappointed.  So it’s unsurprising that our research reveals widespread scepticism about generalised and vague ideas for public service reform.

This matters because future demand pressures, particularly associated with the costs of an ageing society, could add 6% to the proportion of GDP which would have to be spent on public services and that’s before taking into account the £40bn black hole in public finances which will have to be filled over the next 4 years.  Public services will have to change in response to these pressures.  But politicians have denied the public the debate they deserve on this.

Because of the banking collapse and the expenses scandal, voters and politicians are caught in a cycle of fear and loathing.  But it needn’t be this way. It’s not that voters won’t support reform. Rather, reform requires clear leadership which engages the public in a proper discussion about the pros and cons of change.  Our research suggests the route it could take.  It explores the types of ideas which are most likely to be attractive and the conditions that the public want to see satisified. 

For changes to be popular with voters they need the following attributes:

  • Security and fairness – the main finding from our research is how deeply attached voters are to the values of security and fairness which they see as underpinning public services.  Politicians would undermine these at their peril. Any reform to public services will have to maintain their essential characteristics – providing a safety net and support, with processes and outcomes which are seen to be fair.
  • Local control – people are receptive to changes which would increase local control over public services.  This links with voters’ desire to be able to see and experience first hand changes in services so that they can properly evaluate these. The ideas discussed here here included:  greater local control over spending, neighbourhood budgets, local public service co-ops, and more local elected accountability.  However, voters want the reassurance of knowing that there are limits to localism, within a national framework of standards so that, as we have seen in Doncaster, central government can step in if necessary to protect citizen’s national rights.
  • Citizen control and voice – Individual budgets are a popular idea, especially where they give individuals more control over the money which is spent on them, eg for caring or for children with special education needs.  But there are fairness concerns, with people worrying that the confident middle classes might benefit, while those from lower social economic groups or marginalised groups might struggle to make this work for them
  • Citizen advisers to help navigate through the system – Another idea which was very warmly received was citizen advisers to help people get the best out of public services and to overcome the fairness problems which people worried about with choice and individual budgets.  Sometimes also called choice advisers, these advisers would be a single point within the system where citizens could get they help they need to get the best out of public services.  Advice would range from service rights to which citizens are entitled through to how to make the most effective choices with individual budgets.

For voters to be persuaded to back change the following approaches need to be taken:

  • Keep it practical and specific – Voters might initially be attracted to big ideas but they soon start to question their practicality.  What they are interested in is not so much vague principles but more practical, concrete examples of how change might work.  They want to see the evidence of how a particular idea has worked and what the pros and cons have been. 
  • Gradual, small scale and incremental – People want change which is organic, which goes with the grain and grows out of existing structures rather than root and branch change. That means identifying the changes which are already working and looking at what can be learnt from these.  And it means building from the bottom up with small scale changes which can be spread rather than grandiose new initiatives.
  • Start with newer, non-core services – People are more likely to support new ways of doing things for either new services or what they see as, non-core services.   So mutuals, volunteering and co-payment will work best if they start with services such as parks and leisure services.  Whilst the focus groups did not explore how public services might respond to some of the new behavioural challenges such as carbon reduction, and obesity, it would be reasonable to conclude that these may also be areas which are ripe for more innovation.

The public’s strong dislike of user charging is striking.  It appears that they see it through the same lens as tax rises and cuts; their question is ‘Why should we have to suffer any of this pain, when it was the bankers and politicians which created the problem?’

Interestingly, the idea of social insurance and partnership funding between the individual and the state for services such as long term care has very little resonance. When pushed participants saw some positives and were also interested in suggesting other elements which could be taken into account, such as social credits which reflected non-financial contribution. But what this shows is that the need to fund some long term challenges in new ways is not yet on the radar for most people – indicating yet again how politicians have failed to engage the public in a debate about the future of public services.

For the 2020 Public Services Commission, the significance of these findings lies in what they show about the need to develop concrete examples of change, to build on where successful innovation is already taking place and the need to have a model of transformation which is based on consent.  These findings will feed into the next stage of our work in which we will be moving from the general to the particular, by seeing how the principles we set out in our interim report could be applied to welfare reform, education, health and public safety.

You can read a summary of the findings here

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Friday, March 27, 2009

How to widen participation? First widen the policy debate…

By Charlotte Alldritt

Localism, co-production, citizen empowerment…just a few of many current buzz words which carry little meaning outside of the public policy community…The Local Government Association (LGA) had a point when it released its top 200 pieces of jargon that public bodies should avoid using.

As Henry Kippin says in his blog (19 March 2009), the issue the LGA raises is an important one. If policy makers are going to make real headway and start to redesign public services from a genuine citizen perspective, they are going to have to have a conversation with the public using everyday language – not policy speak. But this issue of policy language and communication isn’t new. In fact, localism, co-production, citizen empowerment aren’t new concepts either.

The general public have long cried for a louder voice and more locally determined services. Accountability and increased ‘customer focus’ were meant to be the driving force behind Margaret Thatcher’s reforms way back in the 1980s. But we’re still talking about it. And therein lies the real problem. The same people are talking about the same things within the same corners of Westminster village, and have done for the last 20 years. And we wonder why little has changed?! Even this argument feels like a broken record…

So what to do? How can we make citizen empowerment or co-production meaningful policy? The Commission on 2020 Public Services is endeavouring to do things differently. Watch this space…

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Posted by Charlotte Alldritt at 4:49 pm
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Monday, December 15, 2008

Guest Blog by Matthew Taylor Chief Exec of the RSA

By Ben Lucas

To the 2020 Public Services Trust to give a seminar on public service reform in a messy world. I didn’t have far to go as the 2020 PST is housed at the RSA. In my role as CEO of the RSA I am focused on how we can remove the barriers to social progress, and getting public services right has to be a part of that. But, from my time in Government, I know how hard it is to actually make change happen. At the end of the day we need to find a way in which citizens and communities can be much more self-reliant. The RSA networks team are developing good thinking on the ways in which citizen engagement works.

But back to the 2020 Trust. It’s always a bit worrying having to present my ideas surrounded by such a bunch of experts. To name but a few we had Naomi Eisenstadt, David Albery and Ben Jupp – an impressive round table. But thankfully they were all extremely generous and thoughtful. It was a good discussion.

I’m concerned that too much of the current debate around public service reform is in unhelpful ‘left’ or ‘right’ bunkers. My central idea is that if we take thinking from cultural theory and apply it to how we think about public services we can get a much richer and more productive account of change. In this way we would see four accounts of social interactions namely hierarchical, egalitarian, fatalistic and individualistic. The important insight is that rather than work out the ‘right’ form for any given situation, we need to try and keep each of them in play. Because each of these types of social interaction involve legitimate and different interest groups. In this way we can move away from a zero sum paradigm where for every winner there’s a loser to a much more plural form of engagement. I am indebted to Christopher Hood for this idea.

I also think we expect far too much from public services. Should we really expect schools to be able to solve our problems of inequality when wider society can’t? That seems to me an impossible ask.

The 2020 Trust comes at exactly the right time. With experts, practitioners, people from all parties involved, perhaps it might be possible to create a new settlement for public services. As we go into a tough economic climate we can only sincerely hope so. I’ll do my bit as a Commissioner on the Trust. If you want to read my paper you can find it here.

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Posted by Ben Lucas at 4:00 pm
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