Index . Briefings Home
. Revitalise Our Services Index
to Revitalise Scotland's Public Services
Public Service Networks
In April 2003 UNISON Scotland launched its manifesto
for Scotland's public services, Revitalise our Public Services.
The centrepiece of that manifesto was our principles for public
service renewal. In this series of briefings we expand on these
principles setting out our positive agenda for the revitalisation
of Scotland's essential public services.
What are Public Service Networks (PSN)?
PSNs are essentially an agreement between public
service providers to work jointly on a project usually by pooling
resources and working to a common action plan. They differ from
the much-hyped use of the word "partnerships" which
is often used to disguise the privatisation of public services.
PSNs do not substitute or replace the role of public services
or attempt to hide a loss of capacity.
In a changing environment networks are a more
rapid and effective method of responding to change than constant
boundary reviews and statutory reorganisation. PSNs can also bring
together the fragmentation of services brought about by privatisation
and the growth of un-elected public bodies. They offer co-operation
not competition and the opportunity to make effective use of ICT
and economies of scale without centralised control. While public
bodies can engage in networks that involve various organisations,
the prime focus should be in forging networks of Public Service
The overall aim is to encourage a spirit of co-operation,
communication and mutual support across Scotland's public services.
A concept severely damaged by the introduction of market forces
to our public services.
Why Public Service Networks (PSN)?
Public Service Organisations increasingly need
to collaborate and work jointly to provide public services. This
has already led to partnership working, recognising that many
problems require a multi-agency solution.
In a relatively small country like Scotland PSOs
are often organised on a smaller scale to ensure local responsiveness
and accountability. This means that they may lack the scale too
effectively deliver some services. This in turn leads to calls
for reorganisation into larger less responsive units, boundary
changes or the privatisation of some services.
The perceived need to respond to public policy
concerns often leads governments to the conclusion that to be
seen to be taking action requires the establishment of a new body
or the centralisation of a service. This brings the service closer
to the minister responsible but further from the service user.
This is well illustrated by the growth of the un-elected quango
state, often at the expense of democratically elected local councils.
The latest example in Partnership for a Better Scotland'
is the proposed single agency to deliver custodial and non-custodial
sentences. A knee jerk reaction to public concern over crime.
How are Public Service Networks Organised?
PSN's require comprehensive agreements that cover
strategic objectives, shared vision and priorities, resource commitments,
responsibilities and overall control and management. The key elements
- Responsibilities for delivering specific services.
- Financial controls, investment, budgets and the allocation
- Agreed performance standards, accountability and action plans.
- The application of different organisations' policies and procedures.
- Provisions for the terms and conditions of staff.
- Arrangements for the active involvement of users, community
representatives and trade unions. This includes representation
on joint boards and the capacity to participate.
- Appropriate access to specialist advice and services when
these cannot be sourced in-house.
- Conditions for the termination of the PSN.
The key driver of a PSN is the needs of the service
and the user. Unlike Public Private Partnerships which are driven
by the requirements of markets and private companies.
The Advantages of Public Service Networks
The main advantages of PSN's are:
- Avoiding major boundary change and constant reorganisation
in response to changing service needs. A typical public service
reorganisation results in at least four years disruption to
- Providing a quick and effective response to service change.
- Taking advantage of economies of scale particularly in purchasing.
- Enabling the provision of effective common services across
Most importantly, PSNs retain the public service
ethos in delivering public services across sectors and fits in
with other key principles of public service renewal.
Public Service Networks in Action
A number of current joint working initiatives
have the potential to be developed into effective Public Service
Networks. The largest is Joint Future facilitating community care
between health and local government. On a smaller scale Clinically
Managed Networks in the NHSiS. The common services approach in
health and police are examples of the economies of scale gained
by networking across Scotland. All of these examples have had
their problems largely because they have had to operate within
the legacy of a market approach to public services or they have
not fully organised as PSNs in the way described above. The future
potential for PSN's is considerable.
Public Service Networks provide a real opportunity
to change the culture of Scotland's public services from a narrow
competitive approach to one were co-operation is the norm. Responding
quickly to the need for service change whilst developing a genuine
involvement of staff and service users.
Lisa Manus -
Dave Watson -
@ The P&I Team
14 West Campbell St
Tel 0845 355 0845
Fax 0141-307 2572