For most of this year, the publication of the Treasury’s Public Service Reform white paper has been horribly imminent. David Cameron even gave a speech raising the curtain on it. But nothing happened. It is still imminent.
Of course we know that, behind the scenes, there are struggles to shift the emphasis from mass privatisation to gentle mutualisation. It is far from clear yet whether the Treasury realise that the tools you need for one – big, industrial strength, shared commissioning – is very different from what you need for the other. We shall see.
But the real problem is that the coalition are only half way through a revolution in service thinking. They have got rid of targets, chucked out the Audit Commission, yet commissioning units get bigger and bigger, the disastrous shared back office systems continue to grow, and McKinsey consultants are still at large in the corridors of Whitehall.. The result? Sclerosis.
Will the white paper address this? It doesn’t seem very hopeful, really. But I spent this last week as a 'collaborator' of a pop-up think-tank based in an old Subway shop in Exmouth Market. The result is my own advice for the government. Because it seems to me that there is one way (well, four ways, actually) they can both increase the effectiveness and lower the cost of public services in the long term:
1. Make services more flexible
2. Build services which also reduce demand
3. Co-produce services to reach out and rebuild community.
4. Make services human scale
How are they going to do that? Well, you will have to read the POPse report The New Efficiency: Four ways forward to find out: http://popse.wordpress.com/2011/05/13/the-new-efficiency/