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What will 2018 have in store for public services?

If turmoil is the new mode of twenty-first century politics, then 2017 didn’t disappoint. It was tumultuous to say the least and there was reason for concern for the future of public services.

A storm of reducing budgets, rising demand and growing public expectation has been battering public services for some time now. Layer onto this the drive towards regional devolution and integration, and the challenge facing those leading services increases. Then add Brexit and uncertainty at the heart of government and you wonder how the wheels of public services continue to turn!

So with the New Year on the horizon, it’s a good time to ask what lies ahead in 2018. What will the events of the last twelve months mean for public services and what trends will shape them in the future?

The Brexit effect + stasis in Westminster

Brexit is going to take up huge amounts of legislative time. It will continue to dominate the political agenda for some time to come. I heard someone in Whitehall last week say that there’s only room for a handful of non-Brexit related bills in this parliament. Whether this turns out to be true is a moot point – it is certain to have a stalling effect the public service reform agenda.

The Brexit effect is compounded by the weakness of the current administration and the plain facts of parliamentary arithmetic. Every bill will be a battle and so it is likely the government will avoid anything too controversial.

This lack of ability to move forward with confidence raises the spectre of another general election in 2018. It’s not out of the question, although the widespread consensus seems to be that this government will endure until we leave the EU. Then again, a surprise election wouldn’t be a surprise to anyone!

Power to the regions

The impact of events in Westminster hands a golden opportunity to cities and regions outside London. Given the paralysis at the centre, in our view, devolution will be chief driver of public service reform in 2018.

Greater Manchester is setting the pace in many ways. With local control over its £8bn health and social care budget, the landscape has started to shift with consolidation among providers, new payment mechanisms, and integration of local authority and NHS services led by ten Local Care Organisations. The recently elected Mayor, Andy Burnham, is also starting to wield his power in areas including transport and policing.

Taking an overview of a whole region means that public service leaders face new questions about what will work best in their area – and the opportunity for the integration, aggregation and consolidation of services. Expect similar trends to Manchester in other areas where devolution is proceeding, including the West Midlands, Liverpool and Sheffield. MV’s work providing strategy support to public sector clients supports this type of change.

Improving performance in local services

Recent years have seen central government take an increasingly tough approach to failure in local authority services. With a lesser ability to influence through new legislation, we may find Whitehall increasingly using its powers to intervene directly to correct underperformance. A good example is children’s services, where there are an increasing number of local authorities ‘in intervention’, with the Department for Education appointing Commissioners to direct activities to improve services.

Against this backdrop, local authorities are increasingly taking a proactive approach with often quite radical action to correct failure before they become the subject of intervention. MV’s focused Performance Improvement work and our expertise developing a new operating models can allow councils to tackle service shortcomings and establish a more sustainable service and better outcomes for their service-users.

An ever-diversifying market in public services

The Department for Culture Media and Sport has taken up where the Cabinet Office left off assuming responsibility for supporting public services mutuals and diversifying the marketplace of public service providers. The government remains committed to supporting this agenda and populating the space between conventional in-house delivery and outsourcing. Local authority trading companies, joint ventures and other novel organisational forms are as relevant now as they ever have been. MV has a long track record of supporting such work through our New Models work, and we expect a new tranche of government support in the New Year – so watch this space!

As the holidays approach, we’ll all be glad of the chance to catch our breath. But we are excited by what 2018 will bring and look forward to working with more talented commissioners and front-line providers in the New Year.

 

Happy Christmas from all the team at Mutual Ventures!

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