I would like to set out some thoughts about how public leadership and management might develop in the future. In doing so, I want to set aside recent comment on particular roles and organisations. Instead I would like to consider with an open mind what future local corporate management structures for public services might look like.
We might for example think about developing a local franchise arrangement, based on social enterprise models for delivery of public services. Might the local council buy into a suite of public services for the area proposed by some form of specialist third sector or shared ownership local management company. Quite how a co-operative structure might work here is of course problematic, as is the general question of appropriate levels of subsidy, profit or surplus from public sector activities.
There are other aspects of the franchise model that might prove useful, however. Is there mileage in developing specific franchise brands for aspects of service, such as social care, which provide clear standards, incentives, audit frameworks and performance management. Rather than buying into a specific provider’s services, could a public service buy the methodology or model which would be rolled-out in different parts of the country? If we did, whose would the success be and how would it be determined?
Perhaps, too, it might be that in fact the local council develops and owns the area’s franchise brand and the other services, of a more national and regional nature, buy into it. Could there be localist advantages in developing Anywhereville’s NHS rather than accepting NHS Anywhereville? Could or would forthcoming powers of general competence extend to allowing such a way forward? Might we meet halfway in our localities through the morphing of local strategic partnerships into forms of public services trusts?
Developing these thoughts further, and particularly for two tier areas and more responsive local management, I wonder if we might think about developing some form of group management structure? This might help with some of the district capacity issues without challenging localist service provision, in fact it could enhance it. Local or neighbourhood councils could take a unitary responsibility for leadership with a managing director for the area coordinating service delivery and partnership, which would be drawn down from a group commissioning framework. This could encompass all of the front line services, be freed from the overheads of central services and systems and potentially release significant energy by breaking down public sector barriers. Care would need to be taken to maintain local third and private sector engagement, but the energy of political and staff leaders could be much more externally focused along with the development of a single and more effective public service cadre of leaders and managers of place.
The development of one or all of these models would need to reflect the considerations of public value outlined in previous posts. This would require careful modelling of the local public service economy and mapping of partnerships, with considerable momentum and imperative from local politicians and leaders. The overriding consideration would of course be whether the various local councils, boards and vested interests could overcome their natural tendency towards self-protection and develop a clear understanding of their role in mobilising communities and delivering common good.
For me, such questions are far more interesting than whether or not councils change beyond all recognition, or chief executives are challenged as to what their role is! For sure, some local authority tradition is important and part of civil life and local civic identity, and this should be carefully stewarded. Similarly, all public bodies need to have some form of fulcrum between representatives and paid employees, but nothing in the current framework is the last word in efficiency and effectiveness, nor will it ever be without constant change and evolution.