Transformation Challenge Panel -Good report, some further challenges #challengepanel
Today’s report of the Transformation Challenge Panel provides very interesting reading because it sets out an assessment of the state of play of public sector transformation in England. It demonstrates the radical changes needed in public services and community leadership with a focus on place and delivery of outcomes which steers away from narrow provider interest or a preoccupation with process. The picture it paints is one of partial success, many places are finding ways over or round the hurdles which national and local funding and administrative processes might place in their way. However as the report points out, many places could achieve better outcomes for the public if there were some changes to the national funding and governance framework, and changes which enable better cross-sector sharing and leadership.
The panel has therefore rightly called for a more person-centred approach to service design, accessible and flexible up-front funding for the costs of transformation, and radical improvements in how data and technology are used to provide smarter services. It has grouped its twenty recommendations into six categories:
- A new approach to people with multiple and complex needs
- Flexible and longer term funding and stronger local accountability
- Smarter use of assets and more enterprising places
- Information sharing and better, bolder use of smart data and digital technology
- Adapting proven delivery models to suit local needs
- Better collaborative leadership
I will not go into further detail on the recommendations here, but would like to offer some comments on six issues which might need to be addressed if they are going to be taken further:
- The panel’s report inevitably has to be general, the challenge for places will be assessing their current position and the fullest extent of transformation that might be necessary.
- Some mechanism is needed to broker deals in places which are functionally dependent but which historically have found it very difficult to come to agreement.
- Given the national nature of some of the funding involved, the idea of developing some form of place based public accounts committee involving MPs would seem to be a good way of developing their engagement and helping to ensure that expenditure of the ‘public pound’ has suitable oversight. This idea has been previously promoted by the Centre for Public Scrutiny amongst others.
- The report considers capacity building in its recommendations, but an honest evaluation by each place of its capacity to meet the challenges set out will be vital if local leaders are to be equipped to implement far-reaching transformation
- Given the scale of private and voluntary sector involvement in public service delivery, the report feels a little light on the opportunities and barriers to transformation that they might present (for example through restrictive contract conditions) and the public service ethos of many people operating in these sectors and their willingness to be innovative and flexible. Will they be included in the drive for more open sharing of assets, data and delivery, and will they also have access to the leadership development opportunities proposed?
- Finally, and potentially most importantly, the report rightly focuses on public service transformation because that was its remit. However this is half the equation: In the absence of a discussion about the kind of changes that might also be needed in the community, public service transformation is very unlikely to deliver optimally, if at all. The report discusses the changes that individual service users are able to make, but change will also be needed in the way the community works in support of them, particularly in the case of some of the most needy.
So public service transformation can only happen if it is accompanied by community transformation. And this will require three key elements:
- A view and agreement about what constitutes a good life in a good community in a good place
- A focus on community development by public services complementing transformation work, not easy when you are working with very stretched resources
- The willingness by the public and professions alike to understand that this really does mean a fundamental change and that competition between interests must be resolved and not ducked
These are fundamental policy issues which need a political steer. To return to a phrase from a previous time, ‘What matters is what works’: too true, but to what end? It is vital to understand the community outcomes, aims and priorities that are being sought, at both a national and local level, and have a discussion with communities as to their preparedness to engage in achieving them, in order to complement the public service transformation effort.