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Reform of Public Services: Good or Bad?

 

The long expected white paper on open public services has finally been published and reactions to it, as expected, have been very mixed. The paper sets out five main objectives:

 

  1. Choice – Increasing choice giving people direct control over services they use
  2. Decentralisation – Power over services to be held more locally. Community budgets to be introduced in 50 more local authorities
  3. Diversity – Opening public services to new providers in voluntary, public and private sectors. Instead of having to justify competition, Cameron said, the new default will be to justify a monopoly on service provision
  4. Fairness – Measures include a new people premium to be introduced to help disadvantaged children into the best schools and community organizers to work in the worst areas
  5. Accountability – Payment by Results a big lever in achieving better accountability, as will greater transparency

 

The National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) issued a welcoming response to the White Paper from Chief Executive Sir Stuart Etherington:

“This paper is a useful start in looking at the tasks ahead. We want to see a smart, effective and innovative commissioning system which values what all sectors can bring to the table and has the interests of service users and communities at its heart. There needs to be a major overhaul of commissioning to ensure a level playing field for all providers.”

 

NCVO has previously maintained the notion that the voluntary sector should not have an automatic right to deliver publicly funded projects but has always advocated that where it is practical, given the skill base experience and intimate knowledge of the disadvantaged, the voluntary sector should step in.  The NCVO points out that one of the major obstacles currently barring this was funding.  If properly resourced, specialised organisations dealing with for example drugs, ex-offenders, and poverty could make a positive contribution. An example could be given in the much heralded Work Programme were many providers are using a triage system to indentify the  needs of each individual, identifying any barriers , and the voluntary sector  could provide effective solutions in this situation.

Whilst the objectives have been well received, as with all Government White Papers the ‘devil is in the detail’.  Trade Unions have been critical of the proposals. The General Secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union, Mark Serwotka announced on Monday:

“This has nothing to do with people power; it’s about handing more of our public services over to private companies so they can make massive profits at taxpayers’ expense.

“The government can not be trusted to act in the wider public interest and it can not be trusted with the welfare state. People will see through these plans and the deliberately misleading use of words like ‘fairness’ and ‘balance’ to cushion the blow.”

What appears obvious is that for this experiment to be given chance to work it must be sufficiently resourced.

 

David Healey

Project Support Officer

Websites:  Cabinet Office, the Guardian, NCVO, PCS

Sources:

http://www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/resource-library/open-public-services-white-paper

http://www.guardian.co.uk/voluntary-sector-network/2011/jul/11/public-services-white-paper-voluntary-sector

http://www.ncvo-vol.org.uk/news/public-services/our-statement-public-services-white-paper

http://www.pcs.org.uk/en/news_and_events/news_centre/index.cfm/id/54FAA7DD-FF6D-4185-9B3FCC719C04517B

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