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Revitalisisng

Democracy Investment Fairness
Excellence
Partnership

 

 

 

UNISON's manifesto for Scotland's public services

Partnership

Partnership has been the cornerstone of Scottish public service reform. Co-operation rather than competition continues to offer the best route forward. Partnerships typically operate as self-organising, interagency networks. They have different degrees of autonomy from their parental bodies and the Scottish Executive. Examples include Joint Future, Clinically Managed Networks and the Criminal Justice Authorities. Partnerships create and benefit from joined up working; this is essential if the complex challenges facing Scotland are to be addressed.

Reject hierarchies and markets

The solutions to the challenges facing the public sector are rarely deliverable by one agency working on its own. Crime, health and poverty all require multi-agency approaches. Education targets of, for example, 50% of pupils going to university will not be achieved without tackling Scotland's social problems. Hierarchical approaches where each agency sends out central plans are a thing of the past, and markets are often promoted as the only answer to delivering responsive local services. But, partnership working offers responsiveness, local delivery and the opportunity to set national guidelines without resorting to constant reorganisation. It also offers the opportunity for economies of scale, allowing in-house provision to be viable and cost effective.

Public services should offer their users a service based on their individual needs.We believe that markets are not the way to offer this choice. In fact they offer only an illusion of choice. The people of Scotland seem to agree. The Tories spent years trying to introduce markets to the health service, for example offering tax relief on private insurance. Where the private sector does offer an alternative to public provision such as in education and health, take up is far lower in Scotland than in England. People want good services where and when they need them not a complex shopping trip.

Public Service Networks

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. 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 fragmented services, disrupted 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 Organisations (PSOs).

The overall aim is to encourage a spirit of co-operation, communication and mutual support across Scotland's public services. 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. The new Criminal Justice Authority is an example where current groups have been networked under a chief executive.

In a 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 to 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.

Developing public service structures

As partnerships develop there is a risk that strategic direction can be lost in the patchwork of networks and statutory bodies. This leads to discussion around structural change to bring greater cohesion, efficiency and accountability to our public services.

Possible approaches include reorganising existing public services into larger units or joining up public services into all-purpose public authorities. Local government, health, local enterprise and other existing quango functions in large strategic authorities with either separate local delivery authorities or a devolved management scheme.

This might achieve a more strategic approach. quangos would be brought under democratic control with alternative structures of power, the checks and balances essential to a good constitution. The problem is that bigger is also more remote unless there are effective devolved democratic structures with meaningful deliberative involvement of users. A return to two-tier structures might also achieve this although that may just create new boundaries between local and strategic services that have to work together.

It may be that greater partnership working will lead to a demand for more formal structural change in the medium term but solutions should be developed in communities and not imposed from the centre.

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Carrie BellIt makes sense for all the staff working with people who need care in the community to work closely together.

Partnership in this working means we can identify and sort out any likely problems before they cause a problem in service delivery.

Carrie Bell, UNISON member and senior occupational therapist. A health service employee, working in a local government homeless unit

 

 

 

 

UNISONScotland 2006
Published by UNISONScotland,
UNISON House, 14 West Campbell Street,
Glasgow G2 6RX. Tel 0141 332 0006