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A revolution in Scotland…

New government in Scotland facing enormous challenges for our public services – but a unique opportunity for new thinking too

At 14.27 today (Friday 6th May), the Scottish National party secured a majority in the Scottish Parliament, the first party to do so in its 12 year history.

This is a hugely historic moment for Scottish politics. But it will also have significant implications for the country and its public services. A government with a very clear mandate now has to confront some of the biggest challenges Scotland has ever seen, and be solely accountable for doing so. Foremost among these will be in addressing the challenges of a nation where demand for public services is increasing exponentially, but where financial resources are diminishing.

The new government’s policy commitments actually exacerbate this situation with plans for:

  • Continued free personal & nursing care
  • 1000 extra police officers
  • Additional £1billion for the NHS
  • Freezing of the council tax for a further five years
  • No compulsory redundancies across all public services

There is a determination to realise and deliver efficiencies across our public services, with 3% in 2011-12 alone. However, this time around there are fewer ‘low hanging fruits’: procurement activity is much improved, quangos have been reduced, consolidation of service delivery in local authorities.

What is needed is a stronger, more robust and coherent transformation of our public services. Some of this may be prompted and sponsored through the recommendations of the Christie Commission, due to report in summer 2011. That will likely challenge thinking on the structures of our public services in Scotland: particularly in questioning whether 32 local councils, 14 NHS boards, 8 Fire & Rescue Services, 8 police authorities and many other public sector bodies are needed for 5 million people.

While some rationalisation is worthy of consideration, more attention ought to be given to those genuinely transformative initiatives that will deliver savings and improve outcomes. The new administration is committed to Self-Directed Support in social care and (most controversially), plans to further integrate of health & social care budgets across the NHS and local authorities in the face of strong opposition by councils. Ensuring that our public bodies cooperate better, intervene earlier, and relinquish control more in delivery of services is the agenda to follow.

It is these kinds of cultural shifts in thinking – forcing a fundamental rebalancing of citizens’ relationship with the state and their communities – that will deliver the ‘fairer Scotland’ promised by the new administration.

Written by David Welsh, Director –

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