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  • Writer's pictureJohn Copps

Why public service reform must focus on the money

The spectre of financial challenge looms large over public services.


Local government is teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. NHS trusts are routinely battling against budgets that don’t meet demand. And across all services, the costs of workforce and inflation are biting hard.

It has always been true that public services – and what they can offer to people – have been constrained by the available budget, but now that is truer than ever.


Even with the prospect of a new government at the end of the year, it is not clear that this situation will get any better.


Because of this, we know that any reform to public services must be able to pay for itself. Any investment in changing services must be about doing more with the same (or less), and making sure every pound is spent effectively.


Reforms must pay attention to the business case and be able to demonstrate that they will avoid future costs and/or save money.


Without paying attention to the money, the risk is that any reforms won’t be affordable and won’t get the buy-in from leaders that it needs.


Our 2024 Prioritising Public Services series aims to stand up for public services, focusing on six priorities for reform. These six priorities all aim to be cost effective solutions to tackling issues:

1. System and Place Leadership - Trusting local leaders is the best way to improve services

Leadership that is able to coordinate and integrate services in a place is better able to provide the right services at the right time, reducing the cost of multiple interventions and intervening too late.

2. Children’s Health - More effective local partnerships can reduce inequalities

Addressing health in children is critical to managing the longer term costs of public services. For example, not intervening early in tackling mental health crises results in an increased costs to health, housing and welfare in the future. In the shorter term, the failure of dental care is resulting in thousands more children going to hospital – and is now the most common reason to visit A&E.

3. Regional Working in Children's Services - Collaboration can improve outcomes for children and families

Regional collaboration is all about increasing the availability of high-quality services for vulnerable children and doing it more cost-effectively. One of the clear benefits is economies of scale. For example, on their own, local authorities often find it difficult to forecast need and plan effectively. They lack the buying power to shape the market and invest in provision, and are forced into high cost placements for children.

4. Artificial Intelligence - Values-based application of AI can transform users' experience of public services

AI has the potential to yield significant financial benefits from making things easier and quicker. But it must also be done well, with a human-centred view of services. Our focus on the values and ethics of AI will ensure public service leaders understand its strengths and weaknesses, and reduce the risks of failure and wasted cost.

5. Cooperative Delivery of Public Services - Cooperative principles can shape new service models that are more connected to communities

New models of services can help deliver services in better, more cost-effective ways. For example, we will look at the current model of commissioning and delivering children’s residential care, and how local government can reduce its dependence on high cost placements.

6. Relationship between Central and Local Government - A ‘reset’ in the relationship between central and local government can improve policy implementation.

A better working relationship between central and local government can reduce the cost of a programme by reducing the ‘friction’, speeding up implementation, and creating the environment for a more successful outcome.


To find out more about our Prioritising Public Services series and hear about our plans click here or get in touch with


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