The Government has finally launched its White Paper on reforming public services, that it has trailed as critical to reform in health, education, social care, welfare and housing and would affect all citizens. In this article, weprovide an overview of the proposals and consider their implications for public bodies.
Back in January this year, it was reported that the Cabinet Office was planning radical changes to the way in which public services are delivered, with companies, charities and community groups invited to provide public services and banks and other financial institutions asked to help fund their operations. Some six months later, and after many rumours that the Government was having second thoughts, the Open Public Services White Paper has finally been published.
The long awaited publication was trailed as critical to reform in health, education, social care, welfare and housing and would affect all citizens. As David Cameron said at its launch yesterday, it should put power in people’s hands. It would be the end of big government, top down and "Whitehall knows best".
Oliver Letwin, Cabinet Office Minister, told Parliament that the White Paper “sets out the most radical programme of transparency for government and the public sector anywhere in the world. To unlock innovation, the White Paper commits the Government to diversity of provision, removing barriers to entry, stimulating entry by new types of provider, and unlocking new sources of capital.”
Closer examination of the proposals reveals that much of the Paper simply sets out changes that have already been announced or builds on initiatives which are already being implemented, such as the Community Rights under the Localism Bill, personal budgets for adult social care, and Community Budgets. However, there are some new ideas, as well as extension of existing practices.
The Prime Minister explained that the Government’s approach was based on five fundamental principles. All have an effect on health trusts and local authorities, and offer challenges and opportunities to private and voluntary groups:
One major issue for delivery will be the impact on procurement. There is much talk of opening the market; of opportunities for SMEs and third sector; of allowing service failure to drive up standards; not appointing large providers as the risk free option, and much more. However, without examining procurement choices locally these aspirations may not be met.
Providers often cite lack of transparency regarding potential TUPE liabilities associated with taking on a service as a barrier to competition, leading to them being unable to accurately price their bids, or choosing not to bid at all. The Government intends to review employment regulations to ensure that they are working effectively for both employees and employers, but in the meantime, public service commissioners are encouraged to disclose TUPE liabilities early on in the commissioning process or when the Right to Provide or Right to Challenge has been invoked.
There will now be a “listening period” over the summer, enabling a wide-ranging consultation with individuals, communities, public sector staff, providers and others with an interest in how public services are delivered.
This will be followed in November by details of how Departments will take forward ideas to implement open public services over the rest of this Parliament, including proposals for legislation. The parliamentary timetable means that any legislative changes will not become law for at least another 12 months, so would be unlikely to come into force until 2013.
But many of the proposals do not require new law and are already being put into place, such as Community Budgets and social investment. The White Paper provides further support for solutions such as the Local Integrated Services Trust (LIST) being pioneered by Bevan Brittan, which creates a common public sector purse and is an effective conduit for social investment.
Public bodies will already be reviewing their commissioning strategies and exploring how services can best be delivered, including opportunities for service transformation across the whole of their area. The Open Public Services White Paper introduces an increased expectation of choice, diversity and pluralism of provider which will need to be factored in. The Government is heralding this as the largest change to public services since the establishment of the Welfare State - its real impact will become clear as the detailed proposals emerge.