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The Public Service Transformation Network

Source: Public Sector Executive Feb/Mar 2014

The new Public Service Transformation Network (PSTN) is working with 33 upper tier local authorities, covering 22%
of the English population. PSE heard more about its work from its director Robert Pollock.

The Public Service Transformation Network launched last year to take forward the work and lessons from the four whole-place Community Budgets pilot areas – Essex, Cheshire West and Chester, Greater Manchester and the ‘tri-borough’ partners in central and west London (Hammersmith & Fulham, Kensington & Chelsea and Westminster).

The PSTN was announced in the 2013 Budget, as “a new multi-agency network to drive the transformation of local public services”. Chancellor George Osborne said: “The network will spread innovation from the whole-place Community Budget pilots and What Works Centres to support other places at key stages to provide advice and support on co-designing local public service transformation.”

The government says the pilot areas demonstrate proof of concept – better outcomes for less – with net fiscal savings estimated at £800m over five years, and the potential for £9bn to £20bn across England with the proposals fully implemented, according to independent analysis by Ernst and Young. The NAO’s report in March 2013 was uncharacteristically positive too, calling the pilots a “positive first step in assessing the case for integration”, and saying that in general central and local government had worked together effectively to assess the case for local reforms. (Of course, the NAO had reservations too – there was an underestimating of the challenges of integration in some places, and it said the degree of true collaboration across departments could be best summed up as “variable”).

During that pilot phase, 30 central government staff were seconded to the local authorities full-time. Since then, another nine sites have joined the transformation programme and are receiving intensive support: Surrey, South East London, West London, Sheffield, Wirral, Bath and North East Somerset, Swindon, Hampshire and Dorset.

A total of 18 local authorities are involved across those nine areas, announced in July 2013, plus the 15 from the original four pilots, meaning 33 upper-tier authorities in all are part of the programme already. The business cases for transformation that have been developed are due to be implemented beginning in the 2014-15 financial year.

But now, rather than being seconded to places, central and local government employees are seconded directly to the PSTN to work
across the whole programme and support different areas.

“Each of the 13 areas has a dedicated relationship manager who is supporting them as they complete their business cases for service transformation, passing on lessons from the pilot phase and providing a gateway into Whitehall if there are issues that need to be raised with central government,” PSE was told.

Robert Pollock, director of the PSTN, said: “At the very heart of the whole place approach is one key principle: an absolute
focus on delivering a better outcome for people using public services. What works best for them? What produces the best outcome for them, and for the wider community? And if that means two, three, four, five public sector organisations working together? Let’s get on with it.”

PSTN itself is a truly cross-government initiative, rather than being the responsibility of DCLG or the Cabinet Office.

Lessons learnt

Considering that the original pilot was called ‘community budgets’, Pollock had a stark message on the lessons that have been taken from them: “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 learnt that, in the case of health and social care integration, the government can act as a catalyst for change. Because the pilots develop a strong evidence base, ministers felt confident that a £3.8bn Better Care Fund could, as it now is, deliver transformational change. Some places are using it to go further and faster by adding more of their budgets into the pot. (More on the Better Care Fund on pages 44-46).

Success, Pollock says, requires strong local leadership and trust, as well as a willingness to put citizens’ interests above organisational defensiveness or budget-guarding.

It has also meant overcoming bureaucratic obstacles; rules and regulations put in place in one organisation for sensible and well-intentioned reasons that unfortunately inhibit good collaborating or cross-agency working. This is where changing working culture and behaviours comes in.

It’s nice to share

Pollock continued: “We learnt that short-term budget allocations can make it more difficult for local partners to commit to long-term plans. So the Treasury is now working with departments to address that barrier.

“We were also reminded that data sharing, a perennial issue, still remains a challenge – often for cultural rather than legal reasons. The government responded and is setting up a data-sharing Centre of Excellence to spread best practice, as well as considering legislative options.

“The pilots also highlighted the critical importance of central and local government working very closely together to co-design better services for residents – and critically involving local people in that process. Departmental secondees acted as a gateway into Whitehall. The Network has continued this principle, and each place we work with has a dedicated lead. I know they are doing their job effectively when they are not stuck in Whitehall but embedded in their local cross-public sector team.”

The 13 areas are not the only ones getting such support: with 40 expressions of interest in total covering more than 60 local authorities and partners, many more areas are getting “light touch support…with the potential to have more intensive support at a later stage”.

Announcing the PSTN last year, local government minister Brandon Lewis said: “Every public service can be improved so that it works better and costs less. Many places are already finding new and innovative ways to deliver top notch services fit for the 21st century…This will put councils and other local agencies at the centre of a public service revolution, bringing every player together in a smarter way. Stripping out duplication, targeting service dependency and saving hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money.”

‘Smarter ways to deliver better services’

Discussing the aims of the transformation projects across the areas involved, Pollock told us: “The new areas we are working with have really ambitious plans for improving services for residents, whether it is tackling energy poverty, strengthening communities, health and social care integration, or making sure that local work, skills and welfare initiatives are more joined up.

“We are just a small part of the transformational changes being led by places across the country. As our engagement expands we
are picking up smarter ways to deliver better services – Staffordshire, Cornwall, Blackpool, Worcestershire, Tyneside, and Leeds city region for example. Our job is to help spread some of this innovation and support other places to develop their own ambitious transformation plans. We need more places to take on the challenge so that their residents aren’t left behind.”

Case study: Surrey

After submitting an expression of interest to become a part of the PSTN on 12 April 2013, Surrey learned it was successful at the LGA Conference last year on 3 July, and that it would therefore benefit from access to learning, tools and expertise from the existing four pilots. As well as this, the PSTN is helping the council to facilitate discussions with government departments, and offers some funding too (the government announced £1.5m in total, with council areas expected to contribute resources and to share what they learn).

The county council’s six strands of focus as part of the PSTN are:

• Emergency Services Collaboration: closer working, responding to changing demand patterns, cutting duplication, a single control/dispatch function, a combined civil contingencies unit, combined opertional response to some incident types, back office shared services, a joint prevention programme and shared governance.

• The Surrey Family Support Programme: scaling up the current model for 1,050 troubled families to include up to 7,000 families with multiple and complex needs.

• Dementia Friendly Communities: reducing reliance on acute care by providing a greater level of support for individuals within and by their communities.

• Better Use of Public Sector Assets: speeding up the rationalisation of the public estate in Surrey to reduce its overall size and cost, generate capital receipts, and make it easier to co-locate services (front and back office) to support regeneration. This will involve working closely with the Government Property Unit.

• Increasing Youth Participation: cutting NEET numbers by offering new vocational pathways for 14-19 year olds, and integrating the guidance on offer from the council, schools and National Careers Service.

• Transforming Justice: integrated working and case coordination to reduce offending and reoffending, reducing costs to the police and criminal justice system.

Cash to support these programmes is also expected to be drawn from the various funding streams on offer from the government.

In her report on the PSTN proposals, Mary Burguieres, policy and strategic partnership lead manager, said: “Public service transformation is intended to reduce overall public expenditure in an area by refocusing resources from expensive, high cost responses towards prevention and earlier intervention. The case for transformation is clear with significant potential improvements in the effectiveness of local services, increasing value for money and improving outcomes for residents. More detailed work including financial analysis and modelling will be required to determine where the potential efficiency gains will accrue across partners.”


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