A modern agenda for public service integration
Author: Callin McLinden & Joe Fyans |
Perhaps the greatest of the myriad challenges facing local government is the continued delivery of local public services against the headwinds of rising inflation and inexorable demographic pressures. With the dozen missions outlined in the Levelling Up White Paper due to be enshrined in law, and all relying on not just the upkeep but the improvement of local public services, there are serious questions of capacity to be addressed. How well equipped are England’s local authorities to navigate the twin tasks of reformed local service provision and successful placemaking in the short and medium term? And, looking beyond the immediate crisis-laden context, are we able to sketch a more hopeful vision for our localities and ascertain what might be achieved through more effective and harmonious public service integration?
Level Measures is a public service integration research programme carried out by Localis in partnership with Capita and involving input from stakeholders across the local government family. The vast majority of this report is the result of extensive research engagement: the research has involved over twenty hours of dialogue with local corporate leadership – primarily council chief executives, deputy chief executives and service directors – through a series of regional roundtables and supplementary interviews. The conclusions and recommendations are drawn from the outcomes of these discussions, which were structured around agendas drawn from a broad literature review and data research exercise. Independent experts, central government officials and relevant industry bodies were also consulted throughout.
Seven principles for modern public service integration
Canvassing the views of senior corporate leadership within local government – as well as those of independent experts and central government officials – prevalent themes emerged, from which the underlying principles for a modern public service integration agenda can be discerned. These seven principles are detailed below:
- Reliable, consistent and long-term funding. Local leaders, elected and bureaucratic, require certainty in order to unlock the efficiencies which planning service provision over the long-term can provide.
- A holistic understanding of public services and their interconnected nature. Arbitrary divides between types of services and how they are funded do not allow for the kind of prevention-focused and outcome-oriented approach to neighbourhood public services which local authorities could provide in a less rigorously ring-fenced environment.
- Trust between levels and tiers of government. Knowledge of what local government does, and how, remains too limited in Whitehall, but trust must also be fostered between councils who share delivery responsibilities across tiers.
- Deep internal insight into and understanding of performance data, shared across boundaries and between tiers. While information on the outputs of public services is plentiful, there is neither a consensus nor a universal standard on the quality and purpose of data analysis – this prevents genuine insight and leads to potential innovations falling between the cracks of institutions with different capacities and divergent priorities.
- External audit that is based on outcomes, not outputs, considering the totality of local circumstances. Better audit is required for both the general public and central government to gain greater insight into the nature of council performance, but this must not come in the form of purely quantitative data which ranks local authorities. Audit must be purposive, focused on sharing best practice and identifying governance failures at the earliest possible juncture.
- An integrated, systems-based approach to provision which focuses on upstream prevention and user outcomes. Building on principle two, service provision of any given line must take into account the total aggregated impact of local public services on an individual user, with priorities set and resources allocated in a way which maximises upstream prevention and distributes strain across the system in the most efficient way possible.
- Partnership frameworks based on long-term strategic goals which maximise local value. Working with the private and the third sectors should be done in a relational, strategic manner where the priorities for residents are clearly spelled out and delivered to by all partners.
Lessons for a healthy governance ecosystem
Across local government, as well as in the private and third sectors, examples exist of pioneering practice which puts residents first and maximises the power of neighbourhood services to deliver positive outcomes and raise pride in place. The lessons below are drawn from best practice examples encountered throughout the research, some of which are detailed within the main report.
|Develop holistic placemaking policies: Develop strategies that balance economic growth, infrastructure provision, community resilience, and service provision.
|Enhance community engagement: Involve communities early in the design of public service reform and delivery to encourage co-production and co-design. Utilise a bottom-up approach, particularly in preventative care services, to ensure services are responsive and relevant to local needs.
|Promote cross-sector collaboration: Foster genuinely trusting relationships between different sectors and institutions. Encourage shared learning and practice across organisations to enhance integrated public service delivery.
|Implement integrated digital platforms: Invest in technology that facilitates cross-departmental communication, data sharing, and collaboration. This could include a centralised, accessible database that all local departments can access and contribute to, streamlining service delivery.
|Establish cross-functional teams: Create teams that comprise members from different departments or services to collaborate on specific projects or initiatives. This could enhance understanding and cooperation between departments, leading to more integrated service delivery.
|Central government departments
|Strengthen support for local government finance: Consider the impact of national crises on local government finance and provide additional support within spending constraints where possible. Strive for long-term, strategic funding solutions over short-term, one-off capital pots.
|Define the purpose of financial and performance audit: Clearly articulate the policy goals of audit, particularly when policy goals such as value for money, delivering public value, or boosting economic development appear to be in conflict.
|Incentivise public service integration: Develop and implement policies that reward local authorities for successful integration of services. These incentives could be financial, recognition-based, or tied to increased autonomy in decision-making.
|Private sector firms with a public service ethos
|Value social impact: Expand the evaluation criteria of partnerships beyond financial metrics to include considerations of local impact and social value.
|Adopt a relational mindset: Move away from a purely contractual mindset to a more relational one. This can foster better collaboration and shared learning with public sector partners.
|Support innovation and technology: Invest in technologies that can enhance public service delivery, particularly those that facilitate integration and collaboration across different sectors.
|Share knowledge and expertise: Offer consultancy, mentorship or experts to local authorities on how to turn their data into intelligent local insight or other key aspects of public service integration that public sector skills gaps are getting in the way of.
|Promote a shared civic purpose: Align company objectives with the broader civic goals of public service provision to ensure a more integrated approach to improving outcomes
The policy recommendations drawn from this research are designed to move the English system of local public service delivery closer into line with the seven principles laid out above.
- Councils should have revenue support for their neighbourhood service provision combined with money currently allocated through capital pots into a single placemaking budget. Although funding has lifted in recent years, additional revenue support for local government in delivering neighbourhood services is required to uplift capacity, after a decade of an increasing consolidation of council resources solely into the provision of social care. Rather than provide funds for levelling up through capital competitions, which are widely agreed to be inefficient and ineffective, funding for levelling up should be included in the placemaking budget.
- Placemaking budgets should be multi-year, with a five year budget being seen as the absolute minimum required to properly plan service delivery and levelling up.
- Councils should form placemaking boards with local partners and key stakeholders to provide input into strategy and delivery. These would ideally be formed at the county/unitary tier of governance and involve districts from across county areas as equal partners.
- The provision and delivery of these budgets should be piloted, with a long-term view towards establishing the kind of ‘whole place budgets’ which have been repeatedly proposed over decades of central-local relations in English government.
- Devolution deals should include provisions to fund both the delivery of neighbourhood services and the capacity of councils to strategically coordinate provision across service lines to prioritise upstream prevention. To date, devolution deals have been too focused on regeneration through capital injections and too proscriptive of governance models. Better public service outcomes, and the upstream prevention benefits which accompany them, are crucial to improving quality of life and pride in place. To properly deliver on the promise of levelling up, deals must be more flexible and include provisions focused on neighbourhood services and the councils who deliver them.
- Subregional centres should be established for the collation and analysis of public service data, to be used as a shared resource for councils across a wider geographic area. Councils of all sizes across the country struggle to recruit and retain data professionals of the level required to provide intelligent insight into public service output data. Subregional data hubs could help achieve the scale required to compete with the private sector in a labour market with high levels of demand, and act as a valuable resource for sector-led improvement.
- The intended role and purpose of the Office for Local Government should be clarified and broadened from a reductive focus on data. Central government must clearly articulate the goals of performance audit, particularly when policy goals such as value for money, delivering public value, or boosting economic development appear to be in conflict. The purpose and goals of OFLOG should be clarified and designed to prevent an oversimplification of local governance, ensuring that its role aligns with the broader of objectives of public service delivery and the levelling up missions.
- Civil service training for policy professionals should include a core element focusing on the form and function of local government. It is a widely shared sentiment that staff in central government departments do not fully understand the structure or the extent of local government functions, nor the capacity councils have to exercise these functions. This situation is exacerbated by the plethora of departmental initiatives with a local delivery element, which can and often do overlap with and contradict each other. A universal standard for understanding throughout Whitehall – not just DLUHC – is a prerequisite for improving place-based public services across the board.