Innovate with users, says PM

27 Jun 2008 by Karl Hallam

The Prime Minister has announced that he wants 'World Class Public Services'. He says for that for that to happen, 'means unlocking the creativity and ambition of public sector workers to innovate and drive up standards in partnership with service users', which fits very well with Cadence's recent work in this area.

The PM also talks about 'citizen empowerment' and 'extending choice' as well, but it is the partnership between users and front-line workers that we think is the key. However, it is encouraging stuff and there is also interesting new ideas on the need to 'reward success', which if it means success in innovating as oppose to meeting central targets is very pleasing.

It's not always desirable to quote government reports, but below are the key points from the Cabinet Office's World Class Public Services report:

Citizen empowerment

With power directly in the hands of citizens, services become more responsive to the individual's needs. This would lead to:

* services that reflect people's aspirations and lifestyle, such as more flexible opening hours for GP surgeries;

* services reshaped around people's complex and interrelated needs, such as continuity of care between home and hospital for those with long-term health problems; and

* a stronger relationship between the citizen and public service professionals.

Ways this can be achieved include:

* giving people real choices between and within services, such as through greater use of personal budgets;

* giving citizens and communities a greater say in local services by measuring customer satisfaction, and strengthening local accountability over services like the police;

* strengthening partnerships between service users and professionals;

* improving the availability of real time information on the performance of services.

New professionalism

In order to raise standards to the next level, it is vital to unleash the creativity and ambition of public sector professionals because:

* they have the knowledge about what works and make the day-to-day decisions that determine how well the system performs;

* They form direct relationships with citizens and so can understand and respond to their needs and aspirations;

* and front line workers are often best placed to create innovative services that respond to new challenges, such as the Islington police officer who thought up the Acceptable Behaviour Contracts as a simple way of reaching an agreement on how an individual would change their behaviour.

New professionalism is about a shared commitment between Government and public sector professionals, and also about making them accountable to citizens and service users. But it would also give the best professionals space to manage and run their own services through:

* greater freedom and flexibility for high performers to respond to service users and instigate innovation and higher standards;

* raising skills and increasing consistency in the quality of practice;

* rewarding success;

* more front line workers running and managing services as in Foundation Hospitals and City Academies;

* professionals defining their own standards of excellence and dealing with those who are not up to the job

* sharing knowledge and collaborating with each other.

Strategic leadership

World class public services need strong but strategic leadership from central government. This requires a carefully balanced relationship between central government and local services in which the former devolves more to local authorities while focussing on four strategic roles:

* establishing clear values and direction for change and communicating them effectively;

* establishing the operating framework for public services then devolving responsibility tot the frontline;

* allocating resources;

* unlocking talent within services.

For public services to be driven by empowered users and professionals, central Government would take a very different approach - setting the overall direction rather than directing and controlling services. In practice this would mean the Government:

* establishing overall strategy but not specifying detailed implementation;

* agreeing and enforcing baseline standards, not setting targets and intervening on a regular basis;

* providing stability;

* sharing leadership by learning from those at the cutting edge and refining the system accordingly;

* giving local government, communities and services power and responsibility to decide what is right for their area rather than controlling everything centrally;

* reducing central bureaucracy



your comments

Jeremy Cushing
Posts: 1
Not setting targets
Reply #1 on : Thu July 03, 2008, 10:58:18
The problem with this sort of thing is that it simply doesn't convince. This is a tragedy, because the kind of commitment to public service by both providers and users which the PM's proposals require is likely to be undermined by cynicism all round. Why is it so difficult to believe in government's promises to give 'local government, communities and services power and responsibility'? Partly because of sheer repetition: we've heard this sort of thing so often. Partly because the system simply doesn't support it, and there is no sign that the system will change. Future politicians will no more be able to resist the temptation to promote 'initiatives' than their predecessors. It's the way they promote their careers. I suspect what would be required would be some kind of constitutional limits on central government interference, which would move us more towards the written constitution model and away from the 'sovereignty of Parliament' which actually means the absence of limits on the power of whatever government is in power for the time being.

This would not be all good news. One obvious problem would be that we would simply have to get used to 'postcode lotteries'. Another would be that it would be even more difficult to shift pockets of malpractice which always occur in all systems. But the good news (the release of far more political energy) would probably outweigh the bad.

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