Thursday, 13 October 2011

A new social contract for a new era

Yesterday I read this really spot-on piece in the Guardian that describes the need for politics to build a new consensus with the population if we are to achieve successful reform of public services. It was written by my old friend and collaborator Ben Lucas who is now the principal partner of the 2020 Public Services Hub at the RCA. Ben has been instrumental in the development of the Transition Institute, the innovation SEL co-founded with partners NESTA and strategic and intellectual support from a broad range of change-makers and public service experts. The Transition Institute is a platform to promote, debate and describe new forms of public service delivery that seek to maximise social value and in the space we are creating we want to build understanding of these new forms of delivery and so we welcome this timely contribution.

For us, successful reform is all about consensus that we are confident of achieving with the right strategy and support. So with Ben's kind permission, his piece is as follows.

Badge Joe Public blog

Where are the citizen-focused public services we need?

Despite the grave economic conditions England faces, none of the main political parties are reflecting seriously on what this will mean for public services
NHS sign
The coalition has pursued structural change over engaging with the public, says Ben Lucas Photograph: Graeme Robertson/Getty Images
This week the Commission on 2020 Public Services publishes its first year assessment of the coalition government's record on public service reform. What really stands out has been the failure to engage citizens in establishing a new public service settlement. When we published our final research report a year ago, the challenges facing public services looked daunting – fiscal squeeze, an ageing society and disappointing social outcomes. But the situation has worsened. The economic outlook is now very grave. Yet none of the main political parties used the conference season to reflect seriously on what this will mean for public services and the social contract they embody.
There have been welcome initiatives. The government has been sure-footed in its desire to simplify welfare, and has rightly promoted open data and the more imaginative use of information and communications technology to improve accountability and enable the development of new forms of services. But a big opportunity was lost after the general election to establish a national conversation about how our public services can respond to rising demands and tightening finances, and at the same time achieve better social outcomes.
It's instructive to see how, faced with similar pressures, the Scottish government has tried to create a new consensus. The Christie Commission, established in November 2010, engaged with stakeholders and citizens across Scotland to develop a shared vision of a new framework for public services. Its diagnosis was brutal and clear – Scottish public services cannot afford, socially or fiscally, to carry on as they are. The report called for a new framework based on four principles: community empowerment; service integration and collaboration; prevention, rather than "failure demand"; and greater efficiency. The test will, of course, be in how much Scottish politicians and public service leaders have the resolve to drive these changes through.
In England, we are lacking an overarching framework and the broader public consensus on which this would need to be based. What is missing is any coherent account of what the relationship between citizens, communities, social institutions and the state ought to be in low-growth, austerity Britain.
We persist in organising our vital public services as though the only things that matter are professional autonomy, economic incentives and consumer accountability. Lasting social value is co-created between users and deliverers, so the real challenge for the future should be how we can socialise our public services. In health, the focus on structural reorganisation has overshadowed the need to engage the public better in managing and improving their own wellbeing. This analysis is not an argument for a minimal state, rather it is about how an emphasis on social productivity can improve the relationships between services and people, and not only extend citizen capability but also tap into a wider pool of social resource.
Can politicians begin an open and honest dialogue with citizens about the need for a new social settlement?
• Ben Lucas, is principal partner, 2020 Public Services Hub at the Royal Society of Arts and a 2020 public services commissioner.

1 comment:

  1. Hello Ben, I was disappointed to not find a healthy dialogue ensuing. I particularly appreciated the call for:

    "a national conversation about how our public services can respond to rising demands and tightening finances, and at the same time achieve better social outcomes."

    Thank you for "naming" the issues, the need and the possibility. I wonder if there is movement in your country towards such a conversation?