Headlines: May 10th, 2010

The briefing material of new, or perhaps re-shuffled ministers, will include reports relating to total place which were published in the run up to the election. Taken together they form a blue print of where public services are going, but there is no vision of what the long term future will look like, because no one knows. The driver of change is the budget deficit so there is no question that it will not happen. Whoever takes on the role of Prime Minister in the next few days will have to demonstrate to the markets and others that he will get a grip of the deficit. This means events are set to move quickly and public service leaders have been preparing for this eventuality.

The total place approach, which was piloted in 13 areas, pulled together all delivery partners to take a joint, collaborative, look at how best to tackle major issues in the local area. By starting with the customer and building up insights into the customer need, the project teams discovered widespread duplication of service delivery and multiple overlaps in administration. The way forward is to take out duplication and overlap to cut costs and improve quality.

The implication of taking a total place approach is that new business models of public services will emerge and this will mean radically new leadership styles. The Treasury report on total place sets out what changes are needed in the short term. It makes clear that collaborative working cannot happen without a change in behaviour and mindset across all public services

The report describes the fundamental nature of the change by saying that all public leaders need to take a broader view of the leadership task in public services. Future leaders will not only be people who can work across organisations on behalf of their places, but people who engage effectively with peers, communities, the third sector and with local democratic representatives. They might be political leaders, chief executives, and chief constables; equally they might be programme managers, frontline staff or members of the public.

It outlines some of the main implications for leaders at all levels including the need for a shared strategy for public sector leadership that takes into account the wider public sector and economic context and the importance of starting from the customer’s perspective, not the organisation’s. It also describes the necessity of system-wide, issue-based working across organisational boundaries and the need for a common language, a shared culture and new ways of working.

New leadership styles, different ways of working and changed mindsets will not come easily, but there is little doubt that they will come.