Index . Briefings Home
. Revitalise Our Services Index
to Revitalise Scotland's Public Services
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.
The issue of scrutinising public service performance
was one of the key themes in the coalition agreement A
Partnership for a Better Scotland'. This followed a speech
by the First Minister in January 2003 in which he promised improvements
in public services through stricter enforcement of higher national
standards. The partnership agreement commits the Executive to
improve quality and consistency through national standards, inspection
and support, with ministerial intervention as a last resort.
Concerns with Performance Measurement
Although the issue of setting and maintaining
specific targets for public service organisations (PSO's) in themselves
is not a concern it is the methods used that may raise problems.
Traditional methods of measuring the performance
of organisations have concentrated on cost accounting methods
that may not be entirely suitable to public services. There is
also a concern, as highlighted in the Liberal Democrat's manifesto,
that a scrutiny industry could develop to examine public services.
The English approach has led to such an industry in Whitehall
and mirrored in the PSOs being inspected.
The measurements used to assess performance are
often subjective and fairly crude and do not take into account
all the factors involved in providing a service. To compound this
problem league tables are often used to compare the services of
different service providers. This can lead to pressure on PSO's
to concentrate on such indicators to the detriment of the services
There is also a concern of how open and transparent
any scrutiny regime would be, especially with the growth of Quangos
in either the delivery of services or in their inspection. This
highlights problems of accountability. A further concern with
the concept of measuring performance is the threat of intervention
and possible privatisation of services. This has happened in England
where private firms have come in to improve' the services
of failing' schools.
Any analysis of the performance of public services
needs to take into account the often variable funding levels that
public services receive as well as their interaction with other
public service organisations and the possible impact on their
UNISON Scotland's Approach
It is right that public services are operated
on a democratic basis, and are therefore subject to scrutiny.
However, UNISON is clear that public services need the extra investment,
support and fair remuneration for staff, if the scrutiny process
is to be equitable. In our experience it is the contracting out
of services through PFI that has resulted in poor performance
and inadequate service delivery.
UNISON pushed for the establishment of an independent
Quality Commission during the debate on the Local Government Bill
2002. We are opposed to any significant increase in the role and
powers of the Accounts Commission and Audit Scotland in this area.
Financial motive must not impinge on effective service delivery,
rather the emphasis should be on the quality of the service delivered.
In scrutinising public services it should be
recognised that there is a wide range of factors which determine
the performance of public services. These include the funding
available, access, the service environment and relationships with
users and the wider community. As such the performance management
outlook used by the private sector is not directly compatible
with use on public services.
The First Minister mentioned the use of national
standards. These can provide a benchmark for each service and
may be used to disseminate best practice. However there needs
to be awareness that too many standards may create a straightjacket
for service providers and may restrict innovation in service delivery.
Also, whenever standards are developed the performance indicators
used to assess them need to be carefully selected and objective,
providing a true representation of service delivery.
Service improvement has to be linked not only
to the availability of resources but also the wider social and
economic needs of the community.
Targets should be based on inputs, outputs
and outcomes together with process measures.
- Inputs: the resources used to produce a service, which
include cost and efficiency.
- Outputs: measure the goods and services delivered.
- Outcomes: indicate the impact or benefit of services.
- Process: measures the manner in which the outcomes
Financial systems will also need to be reviewed
to be consistent with this approach. It should also be recognised
that assessing outcomes is fraught with the difficulties of identifying
cause and effect and the influence of other policies and organisations.
There is also a concern that, given the number
of inspection bodies, there may be a degree of duplication in
the scrutiny of public services. There should be a co-ordinated
approach, with possibly a lead inspection body for each public
service to which all other bodies that require information can
turn to rather than disrupting the work of PSO's.
The public has a right to expect high performance
from public services. That performance should be rooted in a culture
of citizenship not consumerism. The customer service culture is
a limited vision for public services that should be based on cooperation
between PSOs and partnership with users and the local community.
Kenny Maclaren -
Dave Watson -
@ The P&I Team
14 West Campbell St
Tel 0845 355 0845
Fax 0141-307 2572