Report of the Commission on the Future Delivery of Public Services
Initial response from Scottish Community Alliance
The big ideas to come out of the Christie Commission on the future shape of public services are all spot on – less top down, more joined up and with an emphasis on prevention. Above all, the report makes the case for a fundamental shift in the way that services are designed and delivered in the future – putting people and communities at the heart of the process. But big ideas tend to come with big price tags and in the current financial climate that’s a significant problem. However the Christie Commission has stressed that this call for radical change is not primarily about money or the lack of it. Its analysis of the current malaise in our public services runs much deeper. Despite having spent ever increasing amounts on our public services over the past decade, it seems that the improved outcomes which we would hope to see in return for this investment have simply failed to materialise. Indeed in some areas of public service, the situation is reported as becoming worse rather than better –the short answer is that many of our public services are no longer fit for purpose.
The community sector has long argued that it should be allowed to play a greater role and that there exists a largely untapped resource within every community in the country. The Christie Commission highlights how this potential has been harnessed to great effect in places like Renton by the locally based housing association or in Roseneath by the community development trust. Places where services have been rethought, reshaped and redelivered to great effect and often at less cost to the public purse. Why then, despite their success, do these relatively few examples continue to exist only at the very margins of our mainstream public services? The answer, at least in part, is because these community anchor organisations have had to depend on the willingness of others – politicians and civil servants – to devolve some of their power, responsibilities and resources to communities. Given that this is the very same cohort of politicians and civil servants who will be charged with taking forward the recommendations of the Christie Commission, what chance they will respond in the way we need them to? Although the report makes it clear that the financial crisis is not the principal cause of this urgent need to reform, ironically it may be the only thing that makes it possible.