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Public Services - the next Phaseof Reform - Briefing 139 June 2006


IntroductionTom McCabe, the Minister for Finance and Public Services, delivered his long awaited "think-piece” on the future of public services in Scotland in June 2006. He argues that the continued reform of public services must be driven by public services themselves and not by central government. This briefing gives an overview of the document and the various questions for stakeholders in public services to be discussed at events over the next few months. UNISON looks forward to participating in these events and pushing forward the principles for public services laid out in our Revitalise our Public Services manifesto launched at the Scottish Parliament in May 2006.

Transforming public services:

The next phase of reformTom McCabe states that his vision is for Scotland to have public services "amongst the most successful, effective and innovative in the world”. UNISON fully supports this aim. He would like to see public services underpinned by the values of promoting social justice and building for the future.

The following are the principles he believes will support these values:

  • User focused and personalised
  • Drive up quality and encourage innovation
  • Improve efficiency and productivity
  • Join up services and minimise separation
  • Strengthen accountability

User focus

This section emphasises the need for services to be designed around the needs of users not the structures of services. There is a welcome recognition of the difference between the public and private sectors and the complex nature of public services. This section also recognises the opportunity for conflict around issues of choice when not all voices are equally strong or articulate enough to be heard.

UNISON supports moves to meaningfully involve users and staff in the decision making process and the paper highlights the role of citizens as participants, not simply consumers of services.

Sample question from this section: What more can we do to ensure public services are driven by a desire to create as much user focus as possible?

Quality and Innovation

This section focuses on the need for continuing innovation to raise and maintain the quality of services. Scotland is a small country which should make it easier to try out new things locally. Central government's role should focus on spreading good practice because most good ideas emerge locally. Joined up working between services is regarded as the key to improved service delivery.

Sample question: What more can be done to foster a culture of innovation and creativity in public services?

Efficiency and productivityThis section emphasises the commitment to make the savings outlined in the Efficient Government Initiative to reinvest in the delivery of services. (See P&I Briefing 135). It also covers the need for a more robust scrutiny regime. This includes the desire for a clearer picture of unit costs and how these benchmark against other providers or other ways of doing things. There is an acknowledgement that the burden of monitoring and associated paperwork must not cost more money and time that it aims to save. It states ”the Executive has to be more proportionate in its monitoring”

Sample question: What more can we do to drive up efficiency and productivity in public services?

Joining up

This section recognises that the key aims of eradicating child poverty and health improvement cannot be delivered by one agency. Joining up services will be key to achieving future targets not just making savings. This section also covers linking up with communities to ensure they get the services they need and want. New technology can provide new ways of working together but will not create it on its own. The emphasis is on changing ways of working and culture rather than restructuring although it is not ruled out.

Sample question: Are there legislative changes which would help public sector organisations to work more closely together?

Strengthening accountability

Strengthening the accountability of services provided to communities is the main thrust of this section. It suggests widening the role of councillors as advocates and guardians for the communities which they serve. The emphasis is on partnerships and networks. There are also questions about the accountability of senior managers, a popular theme with the Finance Minister. However, there is only a passing reference to democratic accountability outside local government - an issue UNISON has championed.

Sample question: What role should elected councillors have in relation to public services- whether or not they are delivered by the local authority?

Structure outcomes and people

This section emphasises the number of public bodies delivering and managing public services in Scotland and questions whether this structure is the right one. However, there is an acknowledgement that structural reorganisations are costly, and divert resources away from delivering services. It also asks if the local delivery of quango services could transfer to local authorities. Strengthening leadership and 'human capital' (workers to us!) is recognised as the key to high performance.

Sample question: Are there areas where structural change would bring better outcomes than improves working together across boundaries?

UNISON initial response

UNISON outlined its own principles for the future of Scotland's public services in May - Democracy, Investment, Fairness, Excellence and Partnership and so UNISON welcomes this debate. Scotland has been successfully delivering its own model of public services and this paper should stimulate debate on how this model can be developed based on collaboration and co-operation.

Action for branches

This is clearly an important issue for UNISON and will impact on all services. UNISON will be participating in the consultation process laid out in document. Branches are encouraged to consider the full document and discuss the questions presented. Please forward your views to Kay Sillars at the P&I Team in UNISON House k.sillars@unison.co.uk.


Scottish Executive | Scottish Parliament | Briefings Home



Further Information

Transforming Public Services http://www.scotland.gov.uk/

Revitalise our Public Services http://www.unison-scotland.org.uk/revitalise/index.html

briefing: 135 efficient government

Contacts list: Kay Sillars k.sillars@unison.co.uk Dave Watson - d.watson@unison.co.uk @ The P&I Team, 14 West Campbell Street, Glasgow G2 6RX Tel 0870 777006 Fax 0141 342 2835