Redesigning services without new money

Source: Public Sector Executive June/July 2014

The Public Service Transformation Network has formed a ‘Service Transformation Challenge Panel’ made up of experts from across the public and private sectors to seek out the best examples of change in service delivery from across the country and report back to the government. PSE spoke to panel co-chair Pat Ritchie, chief executive of Newcastle City Council.

On 1 May, the Service Transformation Challenge Panel launched a call for evidence, looking for examples of services being delivered in more integrated, effective and efficient ways, which improve outcomes for local people.

The members of the panel are now embarking on site visits across England to see examples of transformation in action – both what’s working and what isn’t.

Pat Ritchie, chief executive of Newcastle City Council, co-chairs the panel with Derek Myers, who was until his retirement in November 2013 the first joint chief executive of two councils: Hammersmith & Fulham, and the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea.

The good and the bad

In an interview with PSE, Ritchie praised the “rich vein of experience” on the panel, and pledged that its final recommendations “will be practical and will build on what’s happening on the ground”.

She said the panel is keen not just to hear about things going perfectly – instead, they will also want to learn about the barriers to transformation, and times when good ideas have failed or not got off the ground. This isn’t like an awards ceremony judging panel, she said, seeking out good practice just to laud it – but instead is a learning exercise.

It is also not much interested in blue skies thinking or untested ideas. “It’s really looking at what’s actually happening out there and why it’s going faster in some places than others, and what it is that drives this sort of change at a local level,” she said. “How do we get under the skin of that, in order to be able to make recommendations that’ll make a practical difference?”

The panel will “certainly” be following up with the four Whole Place budget pilot areas, she said – Greater Manchester, Essex, West Cheshire, and the tri-borough partnership in London – as well as areas making progress on things like the Better Care Fund and the Troubled Families programme. Some of the areas being helped as part of the Public Service Transformation Network’s work – 33 upper tier local authorities, covering 22% of the English population – are also likely to be paid a visit.

Ritchie said: “We want to understand the different delivery models emerging in different parts of the country, whether joint venture arrangements, or mutuals, or other ways of working, and how they provide a different means of taking forward transformation.

“It’s really important that transformation happens not just at the top but all through organisations and through quite deep partnerships. I think that’ll be quite a common theme of the places we’ll look to visit and understand.”

Fiscal discipline

The panel’s scope is clear that is not interested in transformation that requires additional funding, or areas looking for grants. The document explains: “The panel will work within the context of good value for money and fiscal discipline...The panel must not produce any recommendations which breach the government’s fiscal consolidation plans.”

Ritchie added: “We’ll be looking at how you use investment in the system more effectively, across different agencies and organisations.”

450 future spending

Pooling budgets?

In our February/March edition, Public Service Transformation Network director Robert Pollock made this interesting point: “We learnt a lot from the Whole Place pilots: that places didn’t want or need a single pooled ‘community budget’. They felt that bespoke partnerships around local priority issues offered a more practical solution.”

We asked Ritchie for her views on this, and she said: “We did have a bit of a discussion about this at the panel meeting [in early May] – some of the more successful initiatives have been built around individual families or individual service users.

“That’s an interesting strand of inquiry, where you can see collaboration around a particular issue, or redesign of services to meet the needs of individuals or families.

“If you take Newcastle as an example, we’re doing a lot of good work on Troubled Families, we’ve tried to join up services for 0-5 year olds, and via the Better Care Fund we’re joining up services for the elderly. We work collaboratively with the universities and with businesses on economic growth.

“So, would a place-based budget make that easier? It might do. I would leave that as a question to be explored. It’s partly about looking at bespoke initiatives, based on either geography or services, but for me it’s about how you join that up in a coherent system, which allows money to flow across different budgets and across different parts of the system.

“I’m going to go into this with a fairly open mind about that!”

The final report is due to be published by October.

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