I predict 5 positive shifts for local government.
“Cooperating better, intervening earlier, relinquishing control more” – IMPOWER’s response to the Christie Commission in Scotland
The Commission for the Future Delivery of Public Services in Scotland, chaired by Campbell Christie, was established by the Scottish Government in November. The Commission sees its work as being to produce a ‘road map’ for the future reform of public service delivery in Scotland, and inform work to reform public service delivery in Scotland over the coming 5 to 10 years.
IMPOWER submitted its response in late March 2011; a summary is outlined below.
WHY CHANGE IS NEEDED
Like other areas of the UK, there are very serious financial constraints impacting Scotland’s local authorities and other public sector bodies over the next few years. But these are exacerbated in Scotland by more entrenched demographic, economic, policy and cultural challenges. Culturally and financially, there is greater dependence on the public sector in Scotland than in the rest of the UK. As well as employing almost a quarter of its people (compared to under a fifth in England), frontline public services are impacted significantly by historically lower economic growth and corresponding levels of unemployment, poverty, poor health and crime rates. Unsurprisingly, the public sector as a proportion of GDP in Scotland remains high, at over 45%.
The focus rightly is now shifting to the delivery of improved outcomes, and particularly those entrenched in many parts of Scotland: health inequalities, crime, limited educational attainment, worklessness and poor economic growth. Through the Single Outcome Agreement (SOA) process, local authorities and their partners in health, police and fire & rescue services are moving away from input targets and specifying what they will deliver collectively towards national priorities, often via Community Planning Partnerships (CPPs).
However, both the SOAs and the CPPs have yet to mature properly. There are still issues on how these outcomes are measured consistently across local authority areas, the extent to which resources and results are properly linked (especially given the number of outcomes) and how best to assign responsibility for delivery in an area among what are still largely loose coalitions of partners.
The immaturity in partnership working reflects a wider problem for Scotland. Since local government reorganisation in 1996, the political and managerial leaders of many of Scotland’s 32 local authorities have been running large scale, top-down operational functions delivered mostly in isolation from other public bodies, and with limited involvement from the citizen. This is not to decry these leaders; indeed many have developed innovative service strategies, pioneered new ways of working and rooted out bad practices. Yet for all the innovation and good practice, reversing dependency issues and improving outcomes means exploring and changing what is actually needed (demand) as well as how that is delivered (supply).
WHAT NEEDS TO CHANGE
Our view is clear: public services in Scotland in their current form are not sustainable. The financial climate means that radical change is not only desirable but inevitable. And while this change will require some structural realignment, it also implies a cultural shift in all of our thinking – a fundamental rebalancing of our citizens’ relationship with the state and their communities. Collectively, our public bodies need to cooperate better, intervene earlier, and relinquish control more; and our citizens need to take more responsibility for service delivery in their communities.
Our starting position is that the most effective and efficient public services will be those that are planned, financed, coordinated and delivered locally by all relevant stakeholders. Given the explicit twin requirements to cut costs and improve outcomes, stronger and more coordinated collaboration between all of our public bodies – local authorities, police, health, fire & rescue, local enterprise, voluntary sector – can help reduce duplicated effort and harness broader skills and experiences for entrenched societal problems that are beyond the influence of just local authorities.
Our response sets out specific actions that public bodies (individually or in aggregate) should take to deliver a step change from old norms of high-spend, high-dependency public services. These are to:
- Maximise use of demand insight and behaviour change initiatives
- Make large-scale investments in prevention and early intervention activities
- Accelerate the personalisation agenda
- Conduct mature and impartial assessments of partnering and divestment opportunities
Our response sets out how to implement these actions (and some further ‘enabling’ actions). We believe that together these will lead to a more citizen-focused public sector that is more relevant, demonstrably fairer and more sustainable than at present.
WHAT WON’T WORK
Many responses to the Commission will explore the possibility of significant structural changes to the local authority and wider public services environment in Scotland. Certainly, there is merit in exploring whether 32 local councils, 14 NHS boards, 8 Fire & Rescue Services, 8 police authorities and many other public sector bodies are needed for a population of 5 million people. Some rationalisation should take place without disproportionately impacting local accountability and democracy, and perhaps improving outcome delivery. We note that the Scottish Government is currently consulting on the future of Scotland’s fire & rescue services.
Similarly, we anticipate strong recommendations on the need for further efforts on shared services and mass consolidation. Even in recognising that local government in Scotland has already achieved some success in that area (e.g. Scotland Excel, the ‘myjobscotland’ recruitment portal, CPPs), we agree that the shared services agenda could be enhanced: there are several areas where it could provide further efficiencies, either by working across councils or by working locally with partner organisations in Police, Fire and Health as outlined above.
But wholesale reorganisation or internal structural change should not be the priority for Scotland’s public sector leaders. Shared services have played a limited role to date in the delivery of large efficiency savings, and our experience elsewhere shows that these reforms are costly, time consuming and rarely deliver the big prizes. Indeed, since back office functions comprise less than 15% of total costs, even major savings will not deliver the cost reductions required.
A top-down exercise in redrawing boundaries will not release big savings. Instead, a sustained focus on improved collaboration and other step change activities will deliver considerable long-term savings and result in services that meet levels of demand and deliver successful outcomes.
David Welsh is IMPOWER’s director in Scotland. To contact him to discuss this response or any aspect of our work, email email@example.com or call 07900 692689