27 Jun 2008 10:04 AM
Prime Minister sets out his vision for world-class public services

CABINET OFFICE News Release (CAB/074/08) issued by The Government News Network on 27 June 2008

The Prime Minister today outlines a bold vision for transforming England's public services. In a Cabinet Office report "Reaching World Class: The next stage in improving public services" published today, he argues that although public services have improved dramatically over the past decade they are not yet world-class and a new stage of reform is required.

The paper provides a framework for further improvement. Using evidence from the best-performing public services around the world it sets out the Government's overall approach to public service reform for the coming years.

It identifies three key characteristics of world-class public services:

* empowering citizens who use public services by: extending choice and complementing it with more direct forms of individual control, such as personal budgets; giving people opportunities to do more themselves; stronger local accountability; and making sure there is greater transparency on service performance.

* fostering a new professionalism in the public service workforce that combines: services responding more directly to users' needs; consistent quality in day-to-day practices; higher levels of autonomy from central government wherever front line professionals show the ambition and capacity to excel; and greater investment in workforce skills.

* strong strategic leadership from central government to ensure that direct intervention is more sharply concentrated on underperforming organisations, while creating conditions for the majority of services to thrive more autonomously.

The Prime Minister Gordon Brown said:

"Excellent public services lie at the heart of any civilised society. They express our core values of fairness and common endeavour and they underpin a strong economy. But more than that, they are essential if we are to meet our commitment to improve social mobility.

"I want world-class to mean what it says: every element of our public services to be the best in the world."

There have been two major stages of reform of public services over the past ten years. Firstly the Government introduced national standards and targets to drive up performance while increasing investment. The next stage saw improvement driven by incentives from within public services themselves rather than from central Government.

Only strong, reformed public services can deliver the secure communities Britain needs to thrive in the coming decades. Achieving this will require a new set of relationships at the heart of our public services; between empowered citizens and professionals; between professionals and government; and between citizens and the state.

This does not mean rolling back the investment and reforms of the past ten years. On the contrary the report argues that we must build on the progress already made. This means empowering citizens not only by further extending choice, but also by strengthening accountability mechanisms and radically increasing transparency of public services. It means unlocking the creativity and ambition of public sector workers to innovate and drive up standards in partnership with service users, and it means more strategic leadership from central government.

Summary of the report's recommendations

Citizen empowerment

With power directly in the hands of citizens, services become more responsive to the individual's needs. This would lead to:

* services that reflect people's aspirations and lifestyle, such as more flexible opening hours for GP surgeries;

* services reshaped around people's complex and interrelated needs, such as continuity of care between home and hospital for those with long-term health problems; and

* a stronger relationship between the citizen and public service professionals.

Ways this can be achieved include:

* giving people real choices between and within services, such as through greater use of personal budgets;

* giving citizens and communities a greater say in local services by measuring customer satisfaction, and strengthening local accountability over services like the police;

* strengthening partnerships between service users and professionals;

* improving the availability of real time information on the performance of services.

New professionalism

In order to raise standards to the next level, it is vital to unleash the creativity and ambition of public sector professionals because:

* they have the knowledge about what works and make the day-to-day decisions that determine how well the system performs;

* They form direct relationships with citizens and so can understand and respond to their needs and aspirations;

* and front line workers are often best placed to create innovative services that respond to new challenges, such as the Islington police officer who thought up the Acceptable Behaviour Contracts as a simple way of reaching an agreement on how an individual would change their behaviour.

New professionalism is about a shared commitment between Government and public sector professionals, and also about making them accountable to citizens and service users. But it would also give the best professionals space to manage and run their own services through:

* greater freedom and flexibility for high performers to respond to service users and instigate innovation and higher standards;

* raising skills and increasing consistency in the quality of practice;

* rewarding success;

* more front line workers running and managing services as in Foundation Hospitals and City Academies;

* professionals defining their own standards of excellence and dealing with those who are not up to the job

* sharing knowledge and collaborating with each other.

Strategic leadership

World class public services need strong but strategic leadership from central government. This requires a carefully balanced relationship between central government and local services in which the former devolves more to local authorities while focussing on four strategic roles:

* establishing clear values and direction for change and communicating them effectively;

* establishing the operating framework for public services then devolving responsibility tot the frontline;

* allocating resources;

* unlocking talent within services.

For public services to be driven by empowered users and professionals, central Government would take a very different approach - setting the overall direction rather than directing and controlling services. In practice this would mean the Government:

* establishing overall strategy but not specifying detailed implementation;

* agreeing and enforcing baseline standards, not setting targets and intervening on a regular basis;

* providing stability;

* sharing leadership by learning from those at the cutting edge and refining the system accordingly;

* giving local government, communities and services power and responsibility to decide what is right for their area rather than controlling everything centrally;

* reducing central bureaucracy.


Notes to editors:

1. The report only covers public service policy for England as such policy in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland is under the remit of the devolved administrations.

Cabinet Office Press Office 22 Whitehall LONDON SW1A 2WH