Public sector services are entering an era when they need to change more radically than before to meet the complexity of a highly networked world that is making it harder and harder to find a one-size-fits all approach. At the same time, increasing demands and expectations make expanding existing ways of providing services difficult to afford.
The Auditor General for Wales hosted a conference in Cardiff on 5 November 2014, at which ACCA participated, which brought together public sector delivery officials to consider key issues. Two major factors were highlighted. First, the so called ‘Chart of Doom’ forecasting UK population demographics over the next few years, which shows an ageing population coupled with an increase in the number of children under working age. The net result is a squeezed working population who will be required to pay taxes to support the provision of public services facing greater demand. Second, an expected continuation of austerity over the next parliament (5 years) which will restrict the ability to potentially fund service needs.
Clear messages to emerge were that the government should concentrate on those services it excels at delivering or is otherwise the only possible source. Otherwise it should act as an enabler to support local delivery of services. The latter would involve greater involvement with local communities who are best placed to understand local needs and conditions, and consequently come up with innovative solutions. Such an approach would require a change of focus from:
- Target setting to outcome delivery;
- Direct delivery (i.e. top down driven policies) to local need approach (i.e. bottom up driven policies);
- From state to the third sector service provision;
- Public sector agencies working in silos to everybody working together;
- Delivery of services to preventative measures to reduce the need for services.
The day was structured around three key themes identified as being important to customer services. Highlighted at the event, a survey of those currently receiving public services had emphasised the importance of listening thereby opening up communication, being clear about what needs to be achieved and how to go about adding value, and the benefit of closer working together.
The conference was not intended to come up with quick answers, but forms part of a series of events aimed at looking at how the transformation required might be achieved in Wales. ACCA will continue to participate in this important initiative which has wider implications for everybody involved with, or in receipt of, public services.