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Principles Index . Briefings Home . Revitalise Our Services Index

Principles to Revitalise Scotland's Public Services

Capacity and Innovation


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.

Why Capacity and Innovation?

Revitalising public services requires innovation so new ideas and improvements to the way services meet the needs of people are developed. The public service organisation (PSO) must also have the capacity to allow innovation to occur, otherwise no amount of innovative thought will actually translate into better services at the frontline. Innovation requires challenging the assumption that public services are based on a "one size fits all" approach. This process requires an element of risk taking, so it is necessary to end the blame culture to enable innovation to take place without recrimination.

Building Capacity

Capacity building is about creating resources that are flexible and sufficient to allow for the development of new services and new methods of delivery.

People : Staff capacity issues are an essential part of the innovation equation. Innovation requires a management culture that is open, enthusiastic and encourages participation at all levels. Staff need to feel valued and confident to contribute and participate in decision making. This is recognised in the Executive's Partnership Agreement statement: "we want frontline staff to be empowered". The training and development proposals in the partnership agreement are a key element and require to be adequately resourced.

Structures: Structural capacity issues need to be developed in terms of providing resources (eg ICT, equipment, buildings), implementing new legal frameworks, or democratic structures as appropriate. The Power of Well Being is addressing structural capacity in local government, and should give councils opportunities to act in the best interests of their local communities removing previous restrictions. There is more to do in creating the physical, social and ideological capacity to allow innovation throughout public services. Developing a culture where staff are encouraged and valued is crucial.

Funding: PPP/PFI does not provide the flexibility and capacity for innovation so is not able to revitalise and modernise public services effectively. PFI failures are well publicised. PFI costs more, lacks flexibility, undermines accountability and transparency and has created a two tier workforce exploiting mainly low paid women workers. The PPP Staffing Protocol has to an extent addressed these issues. But PFIs divide teams, dent staff morale, and do not allow for staff development and training that is required for innovation. For effective reform public services have to be funded from sources which do not conflict with developing capacity and innovation, nor with the principles of accountability, participation, quality and fairness.

Some of the changes require amendments to Treasury rules and the reform of off-balance sheet incentives inherent in the current block grant system and Departmental Expenditure Limits. UNISON welcomes progress made in Scotland including the removal of Section 94 capital borrowing restrictions, and proposals to extend this to social housing. However, capital grants need to be provided on a genuine level playing field basis to give PSOs real choice between funding sources.

Developing Innovation

Innovating in public services is the way we modernise and revitalise public services to improve service delivery and meet the needs of service users.

Service Provision The three elements of the Local Government Act — Best Value, the Power to Advance Well Being, and Community Planning — are levers that should be used to drive forward innovation in service provision. Best Value should be about providing quality services, ensuring fair employment, accountability and equality. It involves a sharing of best practice between PSOs ensuring that effective ways of working are shared and promoted. Community Planning has the potential to innovate as stakeholders develop new ways to meet the needs of local communities. To be successful this has to be open and democratic. In health, proposals to abolish Trusts the remaining vestiges of the internal market should assist service innovation if the process successfully harnesses ideas of local communities and frontline staff.

UNISON members are already involved in delivering a range of innovative services. Examples include free swimming for under 18s and over 60s, free fruit in schools, waste recycling schemes, childcare and nursery provision, lifelong learning via workplace-based projects, and Joint Future.

Information Sources To innovate PSOs need to draw on information from a range of sources, sharing best practice and new ideas. By encouraging staff and user involvement and a culture of cooperation rather than excessive use of expensive private consultants. Ideas from other sectors are there and should be drawn upon to innovate and revitalise.

Administrative Systems and Information and Communications Technology

PSO administration has to be flexible and responsive to meet changing needs, and the 21st Century Government agenda can play its part in developing capacity and innovation. Public services have to embrace ICT changes, but to do so resources and training have to be provided at all levels. Funding for new ICT is needed to avoid the social exclusion of people who are unable to participate and use services. Staff have to be trained to develop and facilitate ICT services, whilst acknowledging that some people will want to maintain contact with a "real person".

Whilst call centre technologies have a role the Executive's inadequate guidelines on this issue are a good example of what happens when policy is developed without involving all the key stakeholders.


Developing capacity and innovation is the way forward to revitalise Scotland's public services. Without the people, structures and funding capacity innovation will fail to develop. So it is imperative that we develop capacity to enable innovation to flourish to revitalise public services in Scotland.


Dave Watson -

@ The P&I Team
14 West Campbell St
Glasgow G26RX
Tel 0845 355 0845
Fax 0141-307 2572






UNISONScotland 2003
Published by UNISONScotland,
UNISON House, 14 West Campbell Street,
Glasgow G2 6RX. Tel 0141 332 0006