Headlines: November 7th, 1997

Earlier reforms of government such as contracting out have failed to address wicked issues such as crime, ill health, and poor education. The reason for the failure is that government is still organised against a 19th century model of separate departments spending their own budgets. This analysis is set out in a report by Demos, the independent think-tank. The author, Perri 6, argues that without radical reform, fundamental problems that cut across departmental boundaries will not be properly addressed. Agencies will continue to shift problems on to others, schools will go on excluding pupils who will commit crime and mentally ill people will be dumped into the community.Currently budgets are divided into separate silos for health, education, law and order, etc. The horizontal links between the professions, such as police, teachers, doctors and nurses, are weak. Improving these arrangements is unlikely to bring any substantial improvement The report urges the Government to take an holistic approach to achieve greater integration across the public sector. This would involve a fundamental re-think of structures and processes, moving the emphasis from functions and services towards a focus on solving problems.

Putting these ideas into practice would mean adopting holistic budgeting. Budgets would not be organised by function, such as the Home Office funding a young drug offenders programme, but by outcomes and geographical areas. In this example it would be a youth programme involving perhaps health, education and employment in a specific locality.

The changes that would need to follow this approach to budgeting would include organisations using their budgets to buy whatever services they need. Front-line staff would be empowered to purchase services across healthcare, housing, social services, benefits and job training to bring together packages of customised solutions that suit the needs of the individual.

An holistic approach would also require a one-stop shop where the public could deal with government either physically or electronically. To make government more comprehensible to citizens the one-stop shop would organise what the public sector offers by life events that trigger peoples needs for services. The functions and services that make up today’s public sector would become ‘back offices’ and ‘content providers’ for the shops.

The Report is available at £9.55 + 60p postage from Demos 9 Bridewell Place,London EC4V 6AP. Tel 0171 353 4479