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Principles Index . Briefings Home . Revitalise Our Services Index

PrinciplesPrinciples 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 they provide.

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 service provision.

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 are achieved

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
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