Headlines: March 24th, 2011

Publication of the White Paper Open Public Services, the blueprint for reform of public services, has been deferred until May. It was planned to publish with the Budget. The radical nature of the paper and the shape it will take was signalled strongly in the consultation document published in November 2010.There is speculation that the delay results from a Cabinet split and a desire not to adversely affect one or both parties of the Coalition in the local elections on 5th May.

Speculation has been fuelled by a report from the Unite union claiming that the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats are at odds over how to create their respective visions of the Big Society and the new localism. At the centre of the debate between the coalition partners is how the breaking up of public services – an industry valued at an estimated £79bn – will benefit service users, the taxpayer, and employees. The report lends substance to the theory that the White Paper will lean more heavily towards outsourcing and away from localism.

Unite’s General Secretary, Len McCluskey said : ‘Called upon to clarify what is the primary driver for the reform – genuine localism or out-and-out privatisation, the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister give widely divergent answers. While David Cameron wants business to be the driver and the market to dominate, Nick Clegg argues for more local control by taxpayers’.

The Spending Review published in October set out the Government’s ambitions for the future of public services, focused on shifting power away from central government to the local level – to citizens, communities, and independent providers.

The Consultation document published one month later expanded this theme by saying that the White Paper will look to set proportions of specific services that should be delivered by non-state providers including voluntary groups. In February 2011 David Cameron went much further by saying that his vision of public services was that providers from the private and third sectors will be given a level playing field to compete with any public body. This will be achieved by creating a presumption that private firms, voluntary groups and charities will be allowed to run services and this legal presumption would remove the need for repeated legislation.

These changes need to be viewed in the context of the seismic shift in thinking about public service design which resulted from the total place pilots and the work done in the parallel places. The design process was turned on its head: top-down policy development and central directions were replaced by local solution development tailored to the specific need. Total place has now been re-badged as community budgets and pathfinder schemes are about to be launched with a focus on families with complex needs. This new approach has passed the tests of credibility and feasibility with flying colours. The challenge for the White Paper is to meld together local solution development with a wider range of service providers.

When the dust has settled on the 5th May local elections, the new public service landscape will be revealed. But for now, Publicnet is taking a look at how that landscape may appear. First the long term vision. Roger Britton has set out a vision of 2020 in Productive Places: Workforce and Skills A reflection in 2020.

In the shorter term the White Paper will have much to say about public service employees forming mutuals to bid for delivering services. Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude has predicted that by 2015 up to one million current public sector workers will be employee owners and partners in mutuals delivering public services. Mutuals in Public Service To Promote Big Society looks at progress in taking the idea forward and examines some of the pros and cons.

The White Paper is also likely to set out plans for developing Social Impact Bonds which provide a new way to invest in social outcomes. Social Impact Bonds Stimulate Innovation describes the different forms that funds can be invested for social outcomes.