The Reid Foundation has published an excellent review of how public services could be reformed from the bottom up. The report is written by Dave Watson the Head of Public Affairs for Unison in Scotland and builds from the principles in the Christie Commission published five years ago. The core argument in the paper is that public service delivery should start with communities of place and share sovereignty upwards. Although communities of interest will also determine the future hubs for delivery they all need to be firmly anchored in recognisable communities of place.
In many ways this new report is more incisive than the original Christie Commisison, and it also shows the factors that have frustrated and limited wider delivery of shared services as envisaged in the Christie Commission. Dave Watson’s analysis is firmly grounded in all that is best about the public service delivery ethos, and is peppered with sharp obervations about the ways power play by senior executives, and silo thinking from narrow accountability, have hampered better progress. His report explains that we have highly optimised systems for passing problems around and only weak processes for dealing with the challenges of shared servive delivery.
At the heart of his case for public sector reform is that only the public sector can deal effectively with public policy delivery. Charities depend on the motivations of their volunteers, and profits for private companies limit their capability to deliver on complex social problems. Dave’s perspective that only elected politicians can effectively act in the public interest will not be shared by everyone, but few would disagree that public sector reform it is both vital and urgent for effective democratic governance for places and communities across the country. The right to spend money collected by government through taxes should be matched by a responsibility to abide by the full terms of the public franchise, whether the delivery agents are public, voluntary or private.
In my work I see good and bad practice in all sectors. Perhaps the fastest growing sector at present is the economy of bureacracy. Banks are exploding the economy trading mainly with themselves out of self interest, and similar self-serving motives have resulted in human resources professionals writing 100s of different grievance procedures for public sector staff across the country. Dave’s report is an excellent blueprint for better public service delivery for all sectors.
Jimmy Reid would have been proud to see Dave’s report published in his name putting the focus firmly on the quality of the services that the public sector delivers.