the Blog rss Title underline

The 2020 Public Services Trust Blog

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

England’s Promised Land?

By Charlotte Alldritt

One of the most important points raised at this morning’s launch of 2020 Vision was the need to motivate citizens to engage with public services.  If we are to draw upon the broader, social resource that individuals and communities can bring to the table we need to paint a positive vision for public service transformation. As Rt Hon Stephen Dorrell (2020 Commissioner and Chair of the Parliamentary Health Committee) said, the prophets did not lead people out to the ‘wilderness’ but into the Promised Land.

 

2020 PST welcomes the public debate taking place on the need for public spending cuts.    However to inspire change in citizen attitudes and behaviours about the part they can play in achieving the outcomes we want from public services, we need to set out what our Promised Land looks like.  The public debate will eventually need to move from one of ‘fearful’ realisation of the ‘harsh realities’ of ‘tough choices’.  It will need to call upon language that speaks to a positive future, brought about by seizing the opportunities for change that the current ‘period of discontinuity’ (in fiscal, economic and political terms) presents.   Then we can encourage people to help create the service outcomes that we – as a society – want for ourselves and each other.

 

Timing is crucial though.  Last September only 24% of the public agreed that public services should be cut to address the level of national debt (Ipsos MORI/2020PST, 2009).  Seven months later, 54% agree (Ipsos MORI/Economist, 2010).  It is not uncontroversial to say that shift of political parties in framing the size of the problem and the available policy solutions has been critical in steering public attitudes.  The media also plays a part. 

 

And here, on the brink of an opportunity for reform into the Promised Land, we meet an age-old barrier; to paraphrase Alan Shearer after England’s 1-1 draw against the USA on Saturday – the British media is either in a state of abject despair or bursting elation.  Neither is particularly helpful when England puts in an ‘ok, but can do better’ performance. Similarly, the complexities of the UK’s fiscal challenges mean that a nuanced and genuinely ‘honest’ public debate is likely to be reduced to black and white headlines and soundbites.

Tags: , , , ,
Posted by Charlotte Alldritt at 1:58 pm
divider
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

divider
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.

divider
Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Public Opinion Number 1

By Henry Kippin

Today ive been writing a short piece with my colleague Paul.  It is an introduction to a report we are co-publishing with the RSA, which is based around a review of public opinion on public services put together by Ipsos MORI

The review pulls together qual & quant data on what citizens want, need and value from public services, and engages with live debates on fairness, localism, choice and engagement.  We are publishing the whole thing on March 18th

The 2020 Commission’s interim report will emerge on the same day.  And although a lot of the citizen opinion work has influenced what is said in the interim report, the documents will feel very different.  Writing the intro, I wondered whether this is a problem.  Our commission is broad, with a range of political and vocational interests. So its interim recommendations are also broad, and reflect a way of thinking that could be applied in different ways by different people. 

But working around the hard numbers of citizen opinion is slightly different.  The public overwhelmingly dislike the idea of local variation in public services – yet our commission is likely to advocate a less centralised system.  75% of the public think that efficiency savings will suffice in the face of a spending squeeze, yet our commission will suggest otherwise.

The question is how to interpret what people value.  Our report suggests that we a fearful of postcode lotteries, yet we really value the idea of local engagement and influence.  So: a more nuanced reading of the figures, taking some chances and reading between the lines, and trusting the public is what I think. As one interviewee told me last week, in enabling change, ‘framing is everything’.

Tags: , , , ,
Posted by Henry Kippin at 7:05 pm
divider

To subscribe to email updates of this blog, enter your email address below:

Delivered by FeedBurner

  • Recent posts
  • Archive