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Public service philosophy

02 June 2011

Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude MP once more outlined his vision for public service delivery at the BSA annual lecture at the end of May.

While some of the audience, members Business Services Association (BSA), were looking for more specific guidance on the government’s framework for providing public services, Maude concentrated on the philosophy behind how it will be delivered.

His key points included the establishment of the right ‘tight-loose’ balance, ‘pluralism’ rather than monopoly in public sector services, and a partnership approach that encourages any business, particularly SMEs, to come up with new models and ideas.

Maude described public sector reform as operating under a “tight-loose” framework. Operational activity to be controlled tightly from the centre will include strategy, strategic communications, cash, headcount, ICT infrastructure, broad HR operating standards, big projects that carry financial and reputational risk, procurement of commodities, goods and services that can be standardised and purchased in a co-ordinated way. Everything else should be “loose” – this means pushed away from the centre, including the accountability and delivery of front-line services. By tightening controls at the centre, the government has already managed to save £3 to 4 billion over the last financial year. £800 million was saved through renegotiating contracts with major suppliers.

The government is moving away from seeing the public sector as a monopoly provider. Pluralism is essential as it gives more choice to users and pushes power to communities, claimed Maude. Efficiency and innovation exist outside the public sector. As BSA-commissioned research shows, the outsourcing sector makes up 8% of total UK output and employs 10% of the workforce. With 40% of the industry operating in the public sector, this interdependence justifies a shared effort in looking for efficiencies.

The government is looking for new business models, rather than just a binary choice between in-house provision and straight outsourcing. These models will involve more SMEs, civil society organisations and employee mutuals (which may or may be not-for-profit). The private sector will be looked at to provide capital and expertise for these new models. For instance, the newly launched mutual, MyCSP, includes a private sector partner. The government will also often seek to retain a stake in a new mutual.

“There will be less auditing, monitoring and controlling – we need to move away from the control freak mentality. We want to move away from the way public service is delivered, away from big monolithic public bodies. Building service companies need to be creative. They mustn’t wait to be asked, they need to be more entrepreneurial.”

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