Headlines: October 16th, 2003

Research into the attitudes of public servants to the modernization agenda have revealed a high level of suspicion about the true intentions of the Government. Local authority chief executives, childcare team managers and health visitors acknowledge the need to transform and enhance services, but they also believe that there is a hidden agenda.Researchers from Bristol Business School and the Faculty of Health and Social Care at the University of the West of England found a common belief that the modernization programme to transform health and welfare provision was about reducing it to a residual system and to bring about a greater centralization. They view the centralizing tendencies as a lack of trust of local democratic processes and as a step towards the dismantling of local public provision of certain key services.

The chief executives interviewed welcomed in principle the need for continuous improvement, and admitted that local authorities have not always been good at fulfilling all their responsibilities. But they felt there was an ongoing obsession with performance based on quantifiable results, at the expense of assessing the quality or long term benefits of their service. They were concerned about whether or not modernization will result in there remaining any real semblance of local democracy and autonomy. The regime of inspections, which could ‘take services apart,’ signalled for them a lack of trust in local government’s ability to put its house in order. The practice of ring fencing increasingly large amounts of public moneys for specified purposes also reduces the opportunity for local authorities to make decisions about priorities in the light of local circumstances.

Further information about ‘The UK Public Sector Modernization Agenda – Reconciliation and Renewal?’ can be obtained from Chris Lawrance, JBP Public Relations, (0117) 9073400.