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Five trends to watch out for in public services in 2021

After a year of unprecedented challenges, Mutual Ventures’ Agata Miśkowiec and John Copps look at what’s in store for public services in 2021.

The past 12 months have, to say the least, been extremely turbulent. The coronavirus pandemic has turned the world upside down, the UK has suffered a record fall in GDP and Brexit is still rocking the boat.

Big crises often prompt fundamental, long-term shifts in what matters to people. That’s why understanding what trends are emerging right now is so important. Here, we take a look at some that will have a big impact on public services in 2021.

Funding boost to Level Up the regions

In November, the Chancellor announced a new £4bn Levelling Up Fund designed to improve local infrastructure in towns and areas in desperate need of investment. It’s expected up to £20m will be available per project.

The government is due to publish a prospectus for the fund in the new year and promises to promote holistic, place-based approaches and prioritise projects that make a real change to people’s lives. If this is done well, it could help cement some of the positives that emerged during the pandemic that have reinvigorated and reconnected local communities.

When it comes to bidding for this money, local areas will need a clear person-centred vision of the places they are trying to create and a strategy of how to achieve it.

In practice this means identifying critical social infrastructure that helps close the opportunity gap, alongside improvements to buildings, roads and railways. Family hubs which integrate public services, where people with children can access a range of early years services and build relationships within their community, are one powerful way to do this.

Building ‘place’ into plans for integrated healthcare

“Health is made at home, hospitals are for repairs”, says former NHS chief Lord Crisp. COVID-19 has focused minds on the importance of ‘place’ – the homes, neighbourhoods and communities we live in – when it comes to creating a healthy population.

By April health and social care systems are required to become ‘Integrated Care Systems’, with a greater emphasis on care closer to home. To achieve success, integrated care systems must mean the NHS and local authority-funded social care working together as a single system including voluntary sector partners to tackle problems early on.

The challenge for 2021 is what this means in practice and how different agencies will work smoothly together in the interests of whole population health management.

Devolution starts getting serious

Coronavirus has shone a spotlight on the balance of power that exists between central and local government, leading to increased calls for a redistribution of power to the regions.

Greater Manchester has set the pace in many ways here. It has control over its £8bn health and social care budget, and a mayor, Andy Burnham, who wields power in areas including transport and policing.

Some of these powers could be heading to other regions. The government is due to publish its local government white paper early in the new year. This is expected to give more regions opportunities to elect mayors and consolidate the structures of local government.

How far the government will go remains to be seen. But a shake up in local democracy has huge potential implications for district, borough and city councils and the kind of complex public services they may have to provide.

Financial pressures are not going away

Croydon’s Section 114 bankruptcy in November, demonstrated the impact of the pandemic on already-stretched council finances.

More local authorities are likely to be pushed over the edge in 2021. The Institute for Fiscal Studies estimates that COVID-related financial pressures, exceed available council funding by around £3.1 bn. And a recent survey by the County Councils Network revealed that just one in five county councils are confident of setting a balanced budget next year without dramatic reductions to frontline services.

Once again, local authorities will be asked to do more with less. They will need to reassess how they can deliver services within financial constraints while meeting demand. The priority will be making sure vulnerable people do not bear the brunt of cuts.

People-centred digital solutions

Our lives have moved online during coronavirus. How we work, shop and access public services has, for many, become entirely digital. Even those previously reticent to adapt to new technology have found there’s nothing to fear, although we’re all a bit tired of Zoom meetings now.

We think this trend is here to stay. Public services have seen what is possible. Used well, technology can deepen our connection with other people. For example, through apps to target social isolation or the use of voice-activated devices to support carers.

But we have also seen its limitations, technology cannot replicate that all-important human touch. Many organisations will have moved quickly to implement new remote tech and systems, the key is to assess which have worked well enough to keep using.

 

If 2020 has taught us anything it is the importance of public services and our connection to communities. It has also shown us that no matter the challenges 2021 brings, the public sector can rise to them.

To get in touch with us or hear more about our work contact us at info@mutualventures.co.uk – we’d love to hear from you.

 

From everyone at Mutual Ventures, we wish you a peaceful Christmas and a healthy new year.

We look forward to working with you in 2021, whatever surprises it throws at us.

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