The performance gap between private and public service provision is widening. Yet this is happening at a time when there is cross-party recognition reformas en valencia of the need for reform of public services and when investment is casting a spotlight on public sector productivity rates.
The obstacles hampering efforts to transform public sector delivery are no longer ideological. They range from systemic issues, risk aversion, change management capability, lack of understanding of what is possible and inflexible procurement processes. Yet the appetite for involvement in public service delivery amongst the provider community remains strong. In addition, the market in many areas has matured and expanded significantly, and there is a willingness to work with government in new and innovative ways.
This paper argues that alternative service delivery models (ASDMs, a mix of public private and third sector provision) are inevitable as a prerequisite for transformation; only the quantity and pace of change is unknown. We examine ways of accelerating that process so that the significant benefits expected can be delivered more quickly.
The idea of Public Service transformation is not new. Since the introduction of the Welfare State in the late 1940s successive governments have looked at how to balance public need and available funds.
What is different is the pace of change. Changes in society, public expectations and attitudes, use of technology (particularly the web), types of industry, working practices and the private /third sector capabilities have accelerated in the past 10-15 years. The public sector has struggled to keep up and the performance or productivity gap between public and private sector has widened. But there is now a clear determination to deliver meaningful transformation, as political parties seek to differentiate themselves on efficient and effective provision of public services.
A number of obstacles lie in the path of reform. For example, infrastructure, processes and technology do not provide a suitable platform for any government. Other barriers include: fear of failure (due to the public scrutiny and accountability of civil servants and ministers); resistance to change, either because of familiarity with established processes or sectional interest; political and social constraints; the drive for excessive fairness when policies are being developed which leads to over complicated rules and processes which are unintelligible to the general population; or a fundamental lack of understanding of what really could be achieved through properly harnessing the capabilities of the private and third sectors to the public sector.
Despite some improvements, our current Government finds itself increasing investment without necessarily producing the step changes needed. There is a political consensus on improving public services, increasing fairness (equality of opportunity, needs vs. ability to pay), devolving responsibility to the individual and capitalising on private and third sector capabilities. Indeed, there has been a shift in ideology, with the result that the whole concept of ‘fairness’ has become synonymous with ‘competition’ and choice. Yet there is no apparatus or know-how to achieve those outcomes.
Real transformation requires reform of the delivery mechanisms involved in public services. Reform comprising a combination of private, third and government sectors is inevitable. Such plurality of provision should introduce contestability, helping to drive innovation and close the public/private productivity gap. However, such an approach will require shared objectives under creative commercial arrangements (what we have called Alternative Service Delivery Models or ASDMs). Successful implementations such as National Savings and Investments and the congestion charge in London point the way. The questions are when, or how much and how fast, not if and the answers depend on the balance between the drivers for change and the lack of current capability.