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We need to take a much more radical approach

Source: Public Sector Executive Dec/Jan 2015

Pat Ritchie and Sir Derek Myers, co-chairs of the Service Transformation Challenge Panel, outline the main recommendations of their groundbreaking report.

Public services have been through innumerable efficiency drives and public service reform agendas at various times and in various contexts.

But what we are currently facing is different from anything that has gone before and we are now living through an extremely challenging time. Both of us, during our careers, have been in different bits of the public sector and we can honestly say that we have never seen anything quite like this. We have never had to make changes on the scale facing public services now.

Faced with unprecedented reductions to budgets, local public bodies – including many councils, police forces, health bodies and beyond – have balanced the books and worked hard to maintain services for the people who need them.

But that can only work for so long. Many of the more straightforward efficiencies have been made and yet future challenges remain.

In particular, demand for services is increasing as changing demographics mean people live longer but not all are necessarily healthy for longer. People’s expectations of services are also changing, influenced by our experience of instant access to personalised services from the private sector.

In April, the chief secretary to the Treasury and the local government secretary asked us and 10 experts from across the public sector to look at where successful public service transformation is taking place and recommend how that could be scaled and sped up.

On 26 November we published our final report. It calls for three fundamental changes which, we believe, will create the right environment for places, and central government, to be both systematic and radical.

Twenty specific recommendations set out what places and central government need to do to get there.

First of all, we need to build services around people, particularly those individuals and groups who have complex needs and place repeat and expensive demands on public services.

The Troubled Families approach has shown what can be done to join up services around people and we need to apply this approach to others, such as young people not in education, employment or training, people with multiple health problems or the long-term unemployed.

We have suggested some groups of people who could be the focus of this work – but we do not believe this should be about central prescription. Departments need to provide and assist with the analysis of costs, but places know their own priorities and should approach government with their own propositions for how services can be remodelled.

For its part, government needs to establish a mechanism for agreeing devolved public service deals with places. It also needs to start work now to make sure this approach – based on people and place – is in place ahead of the next Spending Review.

Second, we need to join up investment in transformation. There are currently 30 transformation funds across government, with different criteria and deadlines, and we do not believe this is an effective approach for places or for central government. Instead, the government should combine those funds with capital flexibility and prudential borrowing to create a £5bn transformation investment pot. That would create significant investment, which can be invested in local deals.

Lastly, we need to see radical improvements in the way data and technology are used to support services at a local level. The public want more convenient access to services and for their data to be used to improve quality of services. Unfortunately some services are too nervous about sharing information, and people get a poor service as a consequence, forced to tell their story several times to different bits of the public sector.

We are recommending that central and local government develop new capabilities, and also argue that service users should presume their information will be shared with other public service providers only where this improves services and outcomes for them. We very much welcome the Autumn Statement commitments to many of our recommendations, including using the principles of the Troubled Families programme to integrate services for other groups, providing longer-term budgets for local bodies and aligning inspection regimes.

This is a great start coming so soon after our report was published and the Panel looks forward to further details from the government on these commitments as well as their response to our other recommendations.

Our report is not a silver bullet to the challenges we face – it is part of the solution, not the whole answer. However, it does set out how places could take a much more radical approach to public services. And without being radical, things will be considerably more challenging for all of us.

Find out more, and see the report, here:

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