manifesto for Scotland's public services
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
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.