2006: forward planning, by Sally Gainsbury

5 Jan 06
The detox diets and gym memberships will soon be history. But for Public Finance 's panel of public sector experts, the New Year challenges have only just begun.

06 January 2006

The detox diets and gym memberships will soon be history. But for Public Finance's panel of public sector experts, the New Year challenges have only just begun. Sally Gainsbury asked some of the sector's key players for their 2006 resolutions, predictions and wish lists – against a background of budgetary belt-tightening

Sir Sandy Bruce-Lockhart
Chair, Local Government Association

As a New Year resolution for ourselves as well as for government, we'd like to see the Lyons review recommendations – on both the financing and role of local authorities – accepted by government and actioned within the year. If we achieve that, we will have had a positive year. We'd also like to make progress on drastically reducing the central controls, targets, plans, performance indicators and inspections that Gershon has said cost the public sector some £2.5bn. We would like the savings to be put back into services so that we can really start to harness the innovation and huge commitment of the hundreds and thousands of people on the front line.

Barry Quirk
Efficiency champion, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, and chief executive, London Borough of Lewisham

There comes a point when incremental efficiencies in delivery become unsustainable and you have to look at the design of the service. So this year, we will need to look at what can be done not just within authorities but also across authorities. That means boroughs working together on things like street lighting and cleaning, counties working with districts, and soon there'll be much more requirement for collaborative working. As for my New Year resolution: there's been a flowering of leadership courses in local government and I think that for every one people attend, they should be made to go on two management courses – so they can learn about actually getting things done.

Lucy de Groot
Executive director, Improvement and Development Agency

Hopefully, 2006 will be the year in which local government starts to define its own future and isn't just defined by everybody else. There will be two strands to this. First, a robust response not just to Lyons but to the whole debate about the role and function of local government. We need to avoid being boxed into being either a commissioner or a provider. The second strand will be to develop a more mature way of improving multi-purpose democratic organisations like local government. That's got to involve a substantial amount of self-improvement, linked into a down-sized and more risk-based regulatory regime. So my New Year resolution there would be to ensure that local government is at the heart of an ambitious self-improvement and regulatory regime which means that the Comprehensive Performance Assessment 2008 doesn't need to happen, because we will have developed an alternative.

Mal Singh
Head of finance professionalism, Treasury

The main challenges are going to be up-skilling staff in financial management, which will be met in part by e-learning, class-based training, mentoring and coaching. But the course itself is just the start; the real emphasis is on changing behaviour and linking that to improving business performance. The key will be having learning solutions that are flexible and designed around the individual. But the criteria for success will be having public services delivered at a cost that the public want to pay and at a quality they expect. That's our focus: the link between financial management and delivering public services.

Sir Michael Bichard
Rector, University of the Arts, London

I go into the New Year feeling positive – at last – about the chances of reforming the civil service. That has always been the key to transforming public services and, with a new Cabinet secretary and a team of permanent secretaries who understand the need for change, it could just happen. I am less positive about where public services are going. A coherent vision for reform before the next spending round is essential and needs to make sense of choice, contestability, inspection, efficiency and local governance. Lastly, could we seriously begin to address the fact that the gap between high and low achievers in school has widened since 1997? Debates about structure are not enough.

Lord Victor Adebowale
Chief executive, Turning Point

One of my New Year resolutions is to hear less from the likes of me and more from a new, representative trade body for the third sector.

We know that ministers are keen to have a dialogue with the third sector, but who talks for us about health and social care in a coherent way? The answer is no one, apart from a few of the usual suspects like me shooting their mouths off, and I think that's a problem. We need a body that can negotiate on behalf of the third sector as a whole when it comes to the terms and conditions of delivering public services in health and social care, as well as issues such as staffing, training and service redesign.

We can't keep complaining about government and its lack of organisation if we aren't clear about our own organisation.

Margie Jaffe
National policy officer, Unison

This year we'll be putting even more emphasis on the very many examples of good, innovatively designed and high-quality services run directly by the public sector. We've never said that public services are perfect and we've been happy to embrace a reform agenda, but not if that just means cutting jobs or privatising.

We've yet to be convinced by any evidence that outsourcing can do what the government says it can. In fact, research shows that private sector employees are less experienced and are paid less for longer hours, which leads to real problems in service quality in areas such as prisons, care homes and health care.

So our wish for 2006 is for the government to pause and look at the evidence before it proceeds any further with these policies.

Dick Sorabji
Head of policy, New Local Government Network

2006 is going to be an exciting year. One way or another, a lot of stuff is going to get sorted and decided. Although we're not going to get the local government white paper and Lyons report until the end of the year, some really big issues about the devolving down and joining up of public services will be played out before then. Essentially, that's the whole story on whether or not the third term of the Labour government has been a success.

Local government is going to be the arena in which these things get resolved – for example by engaging neighbourhoods and joining up primary care trusts with social services.

All these developments will also open up new questions around the accountability of local councillors. When Lyons reports at the end of 2006, we'll have an idea about what might be done and whether there's enough ambition to actually crack the problem.

Ann Rossiter
Director, Social Market Foundation

I would like to see progress this year on the profound inequalities that still exist for public service users. For that to happen, we would like fewer but more measurable and effective targets – which I think most people in the public service would welcome – and a consumer satisfaction index to measure how individual providers and services are serving the public interest and need.

But the main challenge for government, rebellious backbenchers and people working in the public sector is for everyone to remember in whose interest the reforms are being done. This is about trying to improve the lives of the least well-off in our society – sometimes that's lost in the melée over the politics and funding issues.

Colin Talbot
Professor of public policy and management, Manchester Business School

This summer, I'd really like to see Gordon Brown publishing a white paper on what he proposes to put in the next Spending Review and asking parliamentary select committees to conduct hearings about it in the run-up to the announcement the following year.

The discussion wouldn't have to be so much about the overall amount as where it goes. It would be about saying 'this is the envelope for public spending' and then consulting about where it's spent in terms of priorities and targets. There's absolutely no reason why they can't do it, other than the traditional secrecy of British government.

David Behan
Chief inspector, Commission for Social Care Inspection

In spring this year we will see the further development of three key debates on the future of social care. First, we expect the joint health and social care white paper. One of the issues we hope it will focus on is the social care workforce, which has been neglected for too long. Raising the status of a career in social care and investing in training and development are essential. Soon after that we will hear the first findings from the government's review of regulation in health and social care. There has been some discussion that quality and market regulation can be separated but I don't believe this should happen in social care, where there is a huge plurality of providers. Someone needs to be controlling both who can enter the market and whether they are providing services to an acceptable standard and quality to remain in there. Finally, we hope that the publication of Sir Derek Wanless's review of social care – due in March – will lead to an intelligent and informed debate about what resources are needed to ensure people can get access to the care services they need.

Nick Pearce
Director, Institute for Public Policy Research

I hope that the government continues to make progress on social justice objectives, on reducing poverty and inequality. Central to this will be ensuring that the 2007 Spending Review really does have clear social justice perspectives at its heart.

For the longer term, the main challenge is to build an integrated early years education and childcare system. We need to increase the proportion of our national income that we spend on children in their earliest years: it's good for them, it's good for equality and it's good for their parents, who need to balance work and family life. We see that as a major social justice priority, but one that is going to be expensive and difficult.

Jamie Rentoul
Head of strategy, Healthcare Commission

With the health care world facing significant change next year, we need everyone to continue their focus on improving outcomes such as inequalities. The commission has a role to play in there as new organisations come into being; we have to be confident we have the systems in place to ensure that core standards are being met and progress is being made. With the introduction of Patient Choice this month, the issue of accessible information for both patients and clinicians will become increasingly important and will become a key challenge. We will need to make sure we have a stronger focus on better information to support the patient's and clinician's decision-making.


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