Three years ago the Christie Commission reported on ‘The Future Delivery of Public Services’. It was a landmark report that set the direction for reform in Scotland and some core ideas have spread into wider UK thinking on the subject.
I wrote an article in last Friday’s Scotsman that reviewed progress with some of the Commission’s key recommendations. It was a mixed scorecard, with centralisation and insufficient focus on the workforce being the main delivery problems. Government legislation all too often largely ignores the workforce component of service delivery, giving the impression that services are delivered by robots. There is no workforce strategy that creates a framework to stop everyone reinventing the wheel in every service change. The Christie "one public service worker" concept is nowhere to be seen.
A number of Christie concepts can be seen in an interesting IPPR paper, "Many to many: How the relational state will transform public services". While the analysis focuses on English public service reform, the analysis is very similar to Christie.
The authors argue that top down delivery might be appropriate for transactional services, like bin collection. However, other more complex problems require a relational engagement between staff and service users - one that provides continuity and a deeper relationship. Care, early years and maternity services are good examples of this. They also require a cross cutting response from teams drawn from different delivery partners, breaking down the service silos. This was also a key recommendation in the Christie report.
This table explains the differences between transactional and relational services.
While I largely agree with the point they make about relational services, I would disagree that transactional services are best provided with limited differentiation. Christie highlighted the work of systems thinking that show that bottom up design works here as well, albeit in a different way to relational services. Public service users are not always the well connected citizens they might be.
As ever, solutions are more difficult, particularly at time of service cuts. The authors argue for two big reform moves which they call ‘connect’ and ‘deepen’.
First, at the system level, the relational state means managing public services as interconnected systems. This means a decentralisation of budgets to local authorities and city-regions. There should be greater pooling of funding, so that services can take a ‘whole person’ or ‘whole area’ view using integrated multi-disciplinary teams. These teams would get greater frontline autonomy with systems that encourage them to share knowledge and learn from innovation.
Second, at the individual and community level, the relational state means deep relationships instead of shallow transactions. This means linking service users with lead professionals with whom they can develop a relationship over time, such as the same care worker in their home. Professionals would be allocated to neighbourhood-based patches with a single point of contact for users. On the collective level, institutions would be designed in ways that strengthen relationships between citizens and enable them to tackle shared problems together.
The paper gives many examples of where this approach has been adopted in practice. There are parts of the solution, such as the use of league tables, that don’t appear consistent with the overall approach. However, much of this analysis would be familiar to the Christie Commissioners who travelled Scotland to look at similar best practice.
Finally, the paper looks at the political challenges, persuading politicians at the centre to ‘let go’. There is also the cost of building these deeper relationships, although the paper shows how this can be more cost effective in similar ways to the preventative spending concept championed in the Christie report. There is also the challenge of engendering greater civic participation, creating the space for people to help themselves, or co-production in Christie terms.
Three years after the Christie report it is interesting to see others reach similar conclusions. The IPPR report has clearly been influential in Ed Miliband’s thinking around public services. Scotland starts from a different place, but there is much common ground on the best way forward.