Looking to the future of public services

After the drama of the Labour leadership contest, Early Action advocate David Robinson asks: is the choice between ‘big vision’ and ‘broad appeal’ a false dilemma? Here are four principles for a strong, relational welfare state that might achieve both…

By David Robinson, Co-Founder and Senior Advisor to Community Links and Chair of the Early Action Task Force.

One morning in August I read two Guardian articles. The first, a Toynbee comment piece, argued that Corbyn appealed to the heart but not the head – he would lose the next election. The second, a news story, was about the Burnham proposal, unveiled with some fanfare, for subsidised rail fares for part time workers.  Not an unworthy idea but would it really grip the grumpies that we had met on the doorstep in the spring? It struck me that morning that the leadership contest was becoming a choice between a big vision that was unlikely to win a general election and a little vision that was unlikely to win a general election.

We need bold ideas and we need to win. With the decision made there is now a fresh opportunity to pitch proposals.  Here’s mine…

Public services look very different today from how they looked in 2010. With further expenditure cuts on the way, not to mention the brutal ideological choices that are being made about the remaining resources, the public realm will be ruthlessly diminished and transformed by 2020. We should work together now on a set of proposals for the future of the public realm post 2020 that are as fundamental and as fearless as Beveridge in 1942. Not tweaking but transforming; building, as did Beveridge, out of very little and seeking to shift the discourse as well as to transform the system.

The plan should be developed in open conversation through a collaborative inquiry proactively sourcing the crowd. Strengthening the progressive cause is not just about electing parliamentary leaders but about engaging and empowering us all.

And, most important, the work should start now:  If Jeremy Corbyn is to succeed as party leader, and I hope that he does, he needs a public service narrative.  If he doesn’t succeed the next generation of candidates will need a far more adventurous promise than Burnham, Cooper and Kendall had to offer this time around.

As a starter for discussion I suggest that the plan might be built around 4 organising principles:

A sharing state.  Building on the person-to-person examples in the sharing economy but focused instead on shared care. The excellent “Shared Lives” organisation has prefigured some of this approach for a long time and of course fostering is well established. What if the approach was better resourced and better supported and extended to support older people, young families and others in the community and in their own homes? Perhaps the Bedroom Tax could be converted into Bedroom Credit for converting and furnishing spare rooms for single people – not only homeless people but others like single elders who might prefer to live in a self contained unit but close to others.

Asset, not deficit, based:  How do we best build on the strengths of individuals, families, communities? The much-vaunted “Troubled Families” programme is a good illustration. Instead of picking off a few families with longstanding and deeply entrenched problems what about a universal, “Stronger Families” programme – acting earlier, equipping us all to be good parents with the same support that parents receive before birth now extended into childhood.

Built on deep value relationships:  Not a new idea but it might just as well be, we see so little of it in our public services at the moment. Politicians have occasionally talked about “deep value” services, “personalisation”, “relational welfare” for years but only committed to it on a very small scale. Suppose we explored a far more radical transformation of local support services with the creation of a new profession modelled around the principle of a key worker, small case loads, deep value relationships  and embracing / replacing  multiple disciplines. The work in Lancashire, led by the Police but involving health care, children’s services and others has begun to show the way but it is exceptional. Make it the rule.

Better to prevent now, than pay tomorrow:  It might seem counter intuitive but public spending cuts make a shift towards prevention more rather than less viable.  Services once delivered by local councils are being increasingly outsourced. It used to be argued, for example, that enabling an older person to stay happy and safe in their own home may have freed up a care home bed but one empty bed made almost no difference to the cost of the institution whilst the additional community care carried a new unit cost. Now that more and more services like care for the elderly are spot purchased from the independent sector rather than run by the public authority public budgets are much more sensitive to changes in demand/ need.  Reducing need really does save money. And the saving can be immediate. A large scale, Treasury led, Early Action Loan Fund would be the kind of policy initiative that could drive widespread transition to an early action state.

Atlee said of 1945 that Labour won because it was looking to the future whilst the Tories were looking to the past. After this tumultuous summer it will be hard for progressives to turn from endless re-examination of our recent history to projects that are practical and purposeful and looking to the future but turn we must, and turn now.

This post appeared first on the Compass website. Read the original.

David Robinson is Co-Founder and Senior Advisor to Community Links, and is Chair of the Early Action Task Force. You can read more of his posts on the blog, or read more about Community Links and the Early Action Task Force

Image by Hannah Maule-ffinch.

One thought on “Looking to the future of public services”

  1. The above vision, for me, is one that takes place within a world attuned to collaboration. So, underpinning the above ambitious transformations are some key collaborative principles that reverse the assumptions we all make about how things should be done: http://cuttingedgepartnerships.blogspot.co.uk/2014/08/surviving-and-thriving-within-weird.html Changing the way we all think and act within an increasingly interdependent world is the true challenge running through and beneath all this.

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