It is fast becoming apparent that the “cuts” are likely to be much more widespread than many people could have anticipated. Talk of 40% cuts is, simply unprecedented in the UK public sector; nothing on this scale of savings has ever been demanded before. Most (but by no means all) public bodies have offered up some serious efficiencies over the last 6 years since Gershon showed the then Chancellor, Gordon Brown, that there was some serious scope for such efficiencies.
Back in 2004 those public bodies who were leading change and had, in their own eyes, done much to put their own house in order already. They argued that it would be difficult to achieve 3% efficiencies year on year. These authorities got a minor reprieve and were allowed to count efficiencies from the previous year. Now they are likely to be asked to find betwen 25 and 40% savings! Quite simply, the salami sausage chopping will no longer be looking to wafer thin slices, but to great chunks being ripped off – or will it?
Is it really unfeasible to actually change for the better the way that public services are delivered AND save money? My experiences suggest not, indeed there is still huge scope for improvements that dont cost vast amounts of money and will lead to savings. After all, there are 352 local authorities in England and Wales offering around 900 services – DIFFERENTLY. Yes, at its worse that’s 352 different ways of delivering each of those 900 services. Not by anyones definition can that be efficient. Sharing common processes would be a start and indeed, for back office stuff like IT and HR sharing has started, mainly through out sourcing contracts. What no one has yet cracked is the sharing of the customer.
Areas such as cross boundary sharing of customer information, focusing on the citizen’s needs rather than the disparate and often conflicting needs of the organisations. Localis and Total Place principles are a step in the right direction but it musn’t just be about community of geography. Total Place solved nothing – but it did start to show what was possible – it has to be about sharing the customers with a community of need. If the public sector, working alongside the 3rd sector, can eliminate the amount of duplication of effort required around application forms, assessments, eligibility checking, inspections then they can revolutionise public services in this country AND save money. Evidence for many customer segments support this in places like:-
- Birmingham (alocholics and drug addicts)
- Leicstershire (victims and perpetrators of anti-social behaviour)
- Greater Manchester (young families in poverty)
- Cumbria (older people)
- Blackburn (children with a parent who has an alcohol problem)
- Nottinghamshire (workless)
All have concluded that reducing duplication of effort and focusing the scarce resources more keenly on early interventions will yield significant benefits for the public purse and significantly improve outcomes for citizens.
However, to make this happen requires real leadership and sharing of resources. It also requires the big central government departments to be able to work at a local level to make change happen for local people. So far this latter point has been the biggest single stumbling block to progress around shared customers – DWP and HMRC who hold all the aces on customer information simply cannot make significant changes at a local level. This has to change if there is to be any hope of sharing the customer and preserving service quality whilst saving major sums of money at the same time. Whilst the noises coming out of the Conservative Party Conference are more than background blurb, Big Society has not yet aligned itself with what local people need.