How we lost sight of the point of public services…

… and what we can do about it, is the title of a paper I’ve co-authored with Prof Chris Fox in which we argue for a radical re-imagining of public services. The paper is published as the first in a new series by think tank New Local here. It draws on the work of innovative organisations like Mayday Trust as well as Chris’s work on social innovation at MMU’s PERU unit. It’s been particularly enjoyable working on a paper with my big brother, and we’ve tried to combine my operational experience with his academic strengths. We didn’t even squabble that much over who’s ideas were the best…

The challenges public services face are complex and cumulative including high vacancy rates, poor staff morale and people accessing services with complex needs. These challenges are a product of under-investment over the last decade but also of structural reforms that mimic outdated notions of competition and tighter management taken from the private sector, with disappointing results.

It’s tempting for public service leaders, faced with multiple challenges, to see ever greater control as the only viable response. But such approaches simply shift need from one service to another, demoralise staff or create different kinds of crises.

So we need a fundamental rethink of the role of public services, a new relationship at the core of our support services, and an approach that doesn’t ignore needs, but does look beyond them.

This is not just about wishing that current roles were more valued and therefore better paid. We need to actually create new roles which are more valued by the people they support and the people doing the job. Front-line practice will be more strongly person-led, more reflective and involve more delegated responsibility for more empowered staff. This isn’t just a change at the ‘frontline’. The organisations and systems people work in will have to change radically, otherwise the most promising initiatives for sustainable public services will remain as small-scale projects, on everyone’s wish-lists, but reaching far too few people.

The paper is here:
I’d love to hear what you think! 


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.