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Posts Tagged ‘Demos’

 I’m always interested to read what David Boyle has to say.  He is the co-author of a recent report published jointly by the New Economics Foundation and NESTA.  The report puts forward co-production as the best, most cost effective way of improving public services.

Boyle and his co author, Michael Harris, argue that by focusing entirely on people’s needs rather than what they can contribute, services have disempowered their users and done little to prevent needs arising in the first place.  Universal welfare systems based on taxation aren’t sustainable, they suggest, without better encouragement for self-help.

They define co-production as delivering public services in an equal and reciprocal relationship between professionals, people using services, their families and their neighbours. 

Public service professionals change from being fixers to facilitators.  It’s a shift of perspective, from seeing the people who use services as hidden resources rather than drains on the system.

The authors suggest that our specialised services dealing with crime, health and education rely on an ‘underpinning operating system’ consisting of family, neighbourhood, community and civil society.

So far, so good.  But here’s the crunch. ‘Co-production,’ the authors rightly point out, ‘needs to be backed by measures to make sure that everyone has the capacity to participate on equal terms’.

Demos’ report on the power gap in the UK shows that there are huge disparities in the power that people exercise over their lives which strongly correlate with education and occupational status.   Not so much co-producers, some people both direct and self-produce. But the people who often use public services the most are those in the most deprived parts of the country which in Demos’ power map have the lowest ‘power’ scores.  In addition, the change from fixing to facilitating, as is clear from the transforming social care agenda, can only be achieved with investment in staff training.

So, co-production may be the way forward for public services but we should be honest about the costs involved in doing it well and doing it equitably in the current financial climate.

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First there was Demos’ Time to put trust back in the front line of public service.  Then came the Localis/KPMG report, The Bottom Line – a vision for local government, Reform’s The Front Line and last week we had the Government’s Putting the front line first.

The ‘front line’ is of course a term that comes from the battlefield and it has always struck me as curious that we should refer to staff who deal directly with the public as  front line.  Does it say something about how we view our customers?  Do we really see staff who have the most direct contact with the public as being at the forefront of the battleground doing combat with the enemy?

The trouble with these front line arguments is that in practice they don’t get you very far.  For sure the clinicians in a hospital do work that is vital but without their so called backroom colleagues, for example in procurement, ensuring that they have the equipment they need to do their jobs, they wouldn’t get very far.  The achievements and failures of large public service organisations are invariably the results of team effort.  Within a council there’s an inter-dependency between staff who deal directly with the public and those who facilitate them. Rather than being a hard split it’s a permeable relationship and rightly so. 

That inter-dependency makes the challenge of finding significant savings much more difficult.  It’s not necessarily simply a case of stripping away the middle managers and the paper-pushing bureaucrats or of service cuts.  There’s a need to really understand how different roles and functions fit together so that the best possible outcomes can be achieved with diminishing resources. 

Just as that won’t necessarily mean cutting discretionary services rather than reducing some statutory ones as CIPFA point out in After the downturn, neither should it be based upon a simplistic split between front line and support services.

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August is a good time to catch-up on some of those reports that have been languishing in the reading tray.  I’ve been dipping into Expressive Lives, a Demos collection of essays exploring the changing nature of cultural engagement.

In his essay, David Lammy MP, argues that technological and social changes are making the ‘expressive life’ a possibility for millions of people, enabling them to create, to express themselves and to share their art in ways that would have been unimaginable even 15 years ago.  He suggests that this, ‘opens up a whole new set of possibilities that have the potential to enrich our civic and political life as well as the personal experiences of the individuals who create and enjoy art.  And it offers the prospect of reconnecting us with the values of community, self-reliance and local exchange that can help us to build the good society.’

In his essay, Bill Ivey, Director of the Curb Center for Art, Enterprise and Public Policy at Vanderbilt University, suggests that the twin pillars of expressive life are heritage (belonging, community and history as expressed through art and ideas grounded in the cultural expressions and practices of family, neighbourhood and ethnicity) and voice (a realm of individual expression).

How best to frame the institutions that provide for this expressive life?  In the conclusion to the collection, Samuel Jones of Demos suggests five guiding principles for future policy: 

  1. Culture, creativity and the arts should be seen from a cross-policy perspective
  2. Government should support both publicly funded and private practice
  3. Young people must be educated to taken an active part in the expressive life
  4. Our expression should be recorded and stored equitably to provide heritage and foster a sense of identity
  5. Institutions should stimulate and enable conversations about the values expressed in our cultural and creative choices.

 ‘Changes in our behaviour, developments in technology, the increased frequency with which we encounter different attitudes and beliefs and changes in world-views and values brought about by the recession,’ Jones argues, ‘combine to put culture and creativity at the centre of policy.’

Often cultural services within local government have suffered from falling under the dread category of ‘discretionary services’.  Already in the climate of making savings, leading local government figures such as Michael Frater are suggesting they will be vulnerable.  This Demos pamphlet suggests a rather different view of the world.  Perhaps if we really grasp the potential of cultural services we would find that they may play as big a part in building the kind of communities to which we are committed, as some of the core services like social care.  And if values are as important as the work of the Campaign Company suggest they may be, then a stronger emphasis on cultural services may help to ensure that more of our interventions achieve the desired outcomes.

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