Laura Bunt - 19.11.2012
Wales 2025 Public Services has been established with a view to asking long-term, ambitious and critical questions about the future of public services in Wales. Laura Bunt shares some reflections from their recent workshop in Cardiff on the Art of Exit, Nesta's report on the challenge of decommissioning public services.
Last week, I was lucky enough to talk to a really interesting group from across the public and social sector in Wales convened by Wales 2025 Public Services. We ran a workshop to explore the lessons and examples presented in the Art of Exit - a report I wrote with Charlie Leadbeater on the challenge of decommissioning public services.
Since we launched the report, Charlie and I have been struck by the appetite from people involved in public service delivery to use the report, and to hear more about the very practical ways in which people have been dealing with this difficult aspect of innovation. We've led workshops to gather reflections and experiences from policymakers, commissioners and providers from health, adult social care, drug and alcohol services, housing and welfare, at both a national and local government level, and in places across the UK, in Denmark and even as far as Australia.
Given the new financial reality for public services, this is not surprising: many will be faced with the challenge of stopping or reducing service provision within their communities, and the need to develop radically different approaches that deliver better outcomes for fewer (or different) resources. This is the short term challenge, but as we argue in the report the capacity for creative decommissioning is also important for developing resilient and sustainable public services in the future - the need for innovation and transformation is not driven by financial crisis alone.
Wales 2025 Public Services has been established with a view to asking long-term, ambitious and critical questions about the future of public services in Wales. As a result of national spending priorities, the Welsh Government is facing real term reductions in spending of up to £1.8 billion by 2015, which though affecting all areas of public service delivery is likely to hit health the hardest. Financial pressures are compounded by an ageing and growing population, disparate geographical communities needing consistent access to care, high unemployment rates and an economy dependent on the public sector. Wales 2025 is therefore a timely and important initiative to consider what models of public services can be sustained within this context.
Though the broad challenges are shared across the UK and in much of the developed world, Wales faces a different prospect in trying to evolve new models of public services. The different political economy means that for the most part, public services are provided directly by government, with civil society and the voluntary sector a less prominent feature. The current emphasis for reform is on better collaboration between agencies, both with a view to tackling strategic challenges and ensuring value for money. There are some thriving examples of innovation, such as the spread of time-banking through organisations like Spice and in the Kafka Brigade's work with agencies across Wales to improve citizen engagement in service design. However, increasingly limited resources present difficult questions in how to finance innovation in the future.
How Wales develops capacity for exit within public services is therefore a critical part of this debate. Creative decommissioning isn't necessarily about how to cut back on spending, or how to respond to service failure. The challenge is rather how do we get better at taking resources out of less effective models in order to invest in those that deliver better public outcomes. We're really keen to keep adding to the body of knowledge in this space. Get in touch if you have experience to share.
This report looks at current drivers and approaches to decommissioning public services.
Download the report