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Source: Public Sector Executive May/June 12

The recent Socitm spring conference heard many an impassioned plea for a shift from cost-centred efficiency savings to a real transformation in service delivery, with strategic input – unsurprisingly perhaps – from CIOs and IT professionals.

But the general thrust of their pleas could have been made by any public sector senior leader, and indeed often is: many chief executives and other directors talk of the need for true transformation, but in practice it’s still the exceptional few local authorities and public sector organisations that have taken the tough decisions necessary to really get anywhere with this.

Other councils, of course, have reacted to funding pressures in different ways, including Sunderland City Council, whose senior team we hear from on page 14 and which has gone for staff redeployment instead of redundancy, a focus on its longstanding and traditional values and services rather than transformation, and which has really engaged with its residents over the changes that have happened.

Transforming the delivery of services does not need to be about outsourcing, privatisation or strategic commissioning, though these will often be part of the mix. Instead, it is about staff and managers working in new ways and with new people, and changing the expectations of residents and customers. This can be a tough sell, but it can also be empowering: it means self-service, responsibility, freedom, personal budgets in some cases, digital access to services, and so on. For staff, it can mean more mobile and flexible working, integration with other departments and organisations – especially in health and social care – and sometimes new roles matched to their talents.

Some councils will reject a lot of this, some with good reason, and would prefer to keep doing what they always have, albeit with less money, and with rising demands on resources, especially in social care. That means widespread job cuts, and sacrificing entire services to protect others.

The budget pressures on some local authorities and public sector bodies has meant that transformation vs cuts is not a choice: they’re having to do both. Although the cuts were frontloaded, ‘year two’ of austerity has not started out a whole lot easier than ‘year one’, in most cases, with the easiest decisions on things to change and cut made back in late 2010 and early 2011. Youth services and planning have tended to take a particular hammering, but demand-led statutory services have had to be protected. Without some real changes in how expensive services are delivered, what’s next to be cut?

Adam Hewitt - Editor

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