Tuesday 24 June 2008
Delivered a speech at the CLES summer school today on the topic of 'Shaping fairer places for the future - laying out the challenges'. The conference opened with Government Minister, Beverley Hughes MP giving the keynote address then the Work Foundation, New Economics Foundation, Professor John Shutt and myself responding.
It's the first time I have been at this event and I was very impressed by the interactive feel to it and the learning and knowledge opportunities created by this approach.
My own contribution focused on how public services and local government can deliver on this agenda. I started by examining what the future may look like in terms of an environment, social, cultural and economic perspective. My observations were based on the 2015 work I was involved in with the Tavistock Institute a couple of years ago. I then made three points I believe are important if we are to progress this agenda, firstly central government infrastructure has to be devolved on a regional basis, secondly on a more local basis local authorities and public services need to be the catalysts and facilitators for fair and equitable distribution of resources and act as the stimulator and driver of local economies, thirdly recognition has to be given to the value public employment brings to local economies.
The feel I get is that CLES is an organisation on the rise and in the current volatile financial times an organisation that really understands local economies is going to be of value to all.
Thursday 12 June 2008
Participated in a breakfast meeting on 'Putting the public into public services: engaging people in scrutiny', at the National Consumer Council's London headquarters today.
The basis of the meeting was around how better regulation could lead to better citizen engagement and the audience were a mixture of those from regulatory bodies, the public sector and consumer bodies. The initial presentations were good from Abena Dadze-Arthur from NCC, Anna Walker from the Healthcare Commission and Phil Morgan from TPAS putting useful context on the debate.
The NCC research is attempting to put user experience at the heart of inspection, rather than just a tickbox approach. It also considers getting ordinary people onto inspection panels rather than 'experts' and how new forms of communication can be utilised to engage better.
Discussion also took place about the quietest voices and Phil Morgan gave some examples about tenants representatives and how they engage in housing inspections.
I pointed out that in terms of local government the CPA process that was in place did not necessarily start from the perspective of what was best for the citizen but was probably developed by the Audit Commission based on Government priorities. Local authorities delivered very successfully against these priorities and demonstrated dramatic improvement, however this didn't lead to improved public satisfaction. Therefore if the framework you are asked to operate within is wrong then institutionally your approach and behaviour could be wrong.
Jo Dungey of the LGA also pointed out that Councillors are lay people and some very good examples of scrutiny actually already exist across the country.
I made some further points around raising expectations when you can't deliver, harnessing the ideas and knowledge of the frontline workforce and that sometimes the public are wrong as in alternative weekly collections.
All in all it was a really useful and informative discussion and I would expect we are still closer to the start of this debate than the conclusion.
Friday 06 June 2008
Just back from holiday and straight back into the fast lane. Go up to North East for the APSE Northern AGM and seminar at Yarm and we have a strategic forum dinner on Citizen Engagement, Governance and Service Delivery.
The idea of the dinners are we get a small group of senior people together and have a guest speaker deliver on a current topical subject, then we have a high quality debate with all present expected to make a contribution to the discussion. I wasn't to be disappointed, we started just before 8pm and the Chair had to close the debate at 10.30pm. One of the main catalysts for the success was the IPPR's excellent Duncan Hiscock who as guest speaker delivered 20 minutes of his thoughts on Citizen Engagement. This really provoked an interesting debate amongst the Councillors and Officers present from Warrington, Stockport, Hartlepool, Rochdale and APSE.
Duncan had covered issues such as how do we involve? why should we? what outcomes and targets are we looking for? the anxiety around democratic governance created with this agenda and how we place the user at the heart of the service. Initially a lot of cynicism existed amongst those present as it always feels like nobody gives you any recognition of the good work that exists at present on engagement.
Points were raised about the expectation this agenda can create and then the disappointment that can occur when finances mean you can't fully deliver what people want; about quango's and voluntary groups being unrepresentative, having no democratic mandate and that this feels like an ongoing erosion of democracy; and that many of the public are apathetic about engagement, sometimes when they are engaged they are wrong (reference alternative weekly collections) and ultimately who makes the difficult choices when resources are scarce.
It was also recognised however that in the public sector the professional power and we know best attitude can limit real engagement. Those present agreed that it was important to gather a wide range of views and ensure that you also reach the quietest voices. Discussion took place around how we harness the knowledge that is gathered on the frontline from those who deliver services at the point of consumption.
The conclusion at the end was probably that the public don't want to be engaged on every issue, mainly they just want good services at a reasonable price, but they do want a say on the important ones and when major changes are due to take place. They also want good communication on issues that effect their everyday life's and to help shape the high quality public services which they consume on a regular basis.
In my view delivery has become overly diverse and if real engagement is to be facilitated and take place then representative democracy has got to be the glue that binds everything together.