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Public Services in Scotland – Christie Commission

The big news for public services in Scotland over the past few weeks has been the publication of the Commission for the Future Delivery of Public Services report, known better as the Christie Commission. And although it only held the media’s attention for a couple of days, the report will have a long-term impact. In setting out several strategies for reshaping public services, those writing the report and those reading it are fully aware that failure to act on its findings and recommendations is not an option: simply put, the public sector in Scotland needs to be both dramatically more efficient and effective over the next five years and beyond.

The report has been warmly welcomed by many of the key players, with the Scottish Government agreeing that its ‘fundamental reforms must now be progressed’, and COSLA (the representative voice of Scottish local government) describing it as ‘a journey that local government is both willing and able to travel’.

iMPOWER certainly welcomes the report. Christie’s strong recommendations on ‘increased personalisation’, ‘prevention and early intervention’, ‘reducing silo mentalities’ and ‘utilising resources from the public, private and third sectors, individuals, groups and communities’ echo the core message of our own submission to the Commission: “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”.

Some (not least Scotland’s broadsheet newspapers) have criticised it for not explicitly addressing whether Scotland needs 23 NHS bodies, 32 local authorities and many other public bodies. But the report is right to sidestep that. Reorganisation cannot be the priority for Scotland’s public sector leaders now; as well as being enormously time consuming, it would do little to release the savings needed for the public purse. Instead, Christie and his colleagues have set out a compelling case for how reform in Scotland (and perhaps even the wider UK) should be framed. Rather than concentrate on inputs and structures, the report focuses on how best to deliver improved outcomes, including reducing health inequalities, crime and worklessness. As an organisation pioneering (and evangelising!) behavioural change and demand techniques in the public sector bodies, we are especially pleased to see such a high-profile recommendation to involve individuals and communities as part of solutions, and ensuring that “the essential authority of people and their communities is acknowledged”.

Of course, it’s what happens next that really matters. While these broad principles and guiding strategies have been mostly accepted by public bodies, politicians and citizens groups, a coherent, aligned Scottish public sector has to contend with Scottish local authority elections in May 2012. Can the fundamental public service reform outlined above, with its implicit need for different priorities, new ways of working, collaboration and an end to universal service delivery, transcend party politics? Stay tuned….

David Welsh, Director.

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