Reflections on ten years since the Christie Commission from:
- a round table event organised by the University of Glasgow/Policy Scotland and University of Edinburgh
- a podcast discussion between Professor James Mitchell, Professor of Public Policy at University of Edinburgh, Caroline Gardner, former Auditor General for Scotland, and Professor Grame Roy, Dean of External Engagement in the College of Social Sciences, University of Glasgow.
It is 10 years since the Christie Commission reported its findings into the future delivery of public services in Scotland. The motivations behind the Christie Commission in 2011 continue to resonate as key challenges, including strains on public budgets; rising inequality and the impacts of welfare reform; demand on public services with an ageing population; climate change and a challenging economic climate. Even without these specific challenges facing Scotland, the shape of the modern economy provides opportunities to be more effective and to improve quality in how public services are delivered.
The agenda for reform set out in the Commission report was nuanced, setting out priorities and recommendations across the entire field of public service reform to address the ‘systematic defects’ and ‘fragmented’ system that hampers joint working to deliver better outcomes. These sophisticated principles have evolved into what has become known as the ‘4 Ps’ – people, partnership, prevention and performance:
- People: Reforms must aim to empower individuals and communities by involving them in the design and delivery of the services
- Partnership: Public service providers must work more closely in partnership, integrating service provision to improve their outcomes
- Prevention: Expenditure must be prioritised on public services which prevent negative outcomes
- Performance: The public services system – public, third and private sectors – must reduce duplication and share services to become more efficient
While these descriptions neatly summarise the principles, the report, for example, provides more detail on the nature of partnerships between public services and other sectors and the changes required to improve them.
Ten years later, and in the aftermath of an unprecedented year of challenge for public services, it is important to reflect on our progress and the pace and scale of reform. On 28 June, the University of Glasgow/Policy Scotland and the University of Edinburgh hosted a roundtable discussion on these issues, with a focus on discussing how to reinvigorate the Christie approach at all levels of government in partnership with communities and across sectors. Here we share some of that discussion, considering where progress has been made, why progress might have stalled somewhat, the lessons learned in service delivery from the COVID-19 pandemic, and where we should focus our efforts next.
Reflecting on progress and challenges
The kind of reforms envisioned in the Christie Commission are complex and challenging to implement, and are challenges facing public services in countries across the world. In the last ten years there are some notable examples of progress being made in public service design and delivery, including the creation of Police Scotland and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and the incorporation of user voices into policymaking decisions such as the Social Security Charter and the design of Social Security Scotland policies and programmes. However, some of these larger institutional changes would have occurred even without the Christie Commission. There are also examples of progress made at the local level, where new programmes and partnerships have aimed to embody the principles of the Commission by creating new ways of working.
Despite some progress, panellists and presenters agreed that the reforms of the last ten years have not been sufficient to meet the scale of the challenge. They also affirmed that the principles of Christie are as important today as a guide to how public services should function in communities, especially as the issues facing Scotland in 2011 have become even more evident today.
Although one of the pillars of Christie was to shift focus in budgets to more prevention activities, there was agreement that this has not occurred at the scale needed to move the needle. Across the public sector, there has yet to be the reprioritisation that we need: for example, the NHS budget (a large portion of government spending) is still focussed on acute care and hospitals rather than primary prevention. In many ways, this is understandable given the pressures on health, but it remains the key area of public services to reform.
Additionally, the ‘performance’ pillar of Christie is an area where progress has been disappointing. As one presenter noted, the last ten years have demonstrated a will to sign up to the principles of the Christie report and the ideas put forth for reform, but the challenge is in execution. One of the issues identified is in monitoring and evaluation. There has been less scrutiny and performance measurement on how public services and communities work together; what service users think about public services and how service users can challenge public services if they do not meet their needs; how and whether prevention is embedded in public services; and the quality of collaboration between and within the public sector and the third sector in service delivery. A missing piece in the jigsaw is how decisions, on reform and budgets, feed through to tracking on National Performance Framework.
Learning from the COVID-19 crisis
The social and economic crisis as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated many of the challenges facing Scotland at the time of the Christie Commission’s report in 2011; including the widening of inequalities related to access to service provision for already-disadvantaged groups in some areas. By necessity however, it also sharpened some of the work of government, public service delivery bodies, the third sector, and community members to meet the needs of communities at a rapid pace. The presenters considered some important lessons from the COVID-19 crisis that we might be able to build upon to progress the Christie agenda in the next decade.
- Local actors alongside some third sector actors were able to deliver at speed when unfettered. More flexibility within grant funding to do work that may not have been in the original grant application and speeding up procurement processes allowed third sector organisations to be more responsive in service delivery. Local collaborations between third sector organisations were able to listen to community needs first and respond in kind, rather than the other way around.
- Whole system priorities were fewer, which enabled greater alignment between partners. Partners from both the public and third sector lined up behind these pared-back priorities for service delivery during the crisis period, and because partners had to work at speed each one was able to be honest about what their organisation was best placed to do. This type of honest collaboration was fostered both by the emergency response context but also by reduced competition for funding.
With these more recent lessons learned in the COVID-19 crisis and the experience of the last decade of work, the panellists and participants considered some areas for action in the next decade to accelerate progress. One of the challenges noted in the Christie report was that institutions can be resistant to change, which is something the roundtable acknowledged was a key factor that hindered progress in the last decade. Therefore, much of the discussion focussed on how to change institutions and at what level action should be focussed.
Radical shift to prevention
This has been the issue that has, predictably, proved most challenging. It was highlighted in the Christie report as of ‘such a significant issue’ that ‘further, more specific steps should be taken’ as a prerequisite to addressing inequalities. The ‘specific presumption in favour of prioritising preventative action, and action to tackle inequalities’ will need to attended to with even greater force ten years on.
Focus on the local
There was agreement from many of the participants that there is significant potential in focussing action and empowering decisionmaking at the local level, which requires public agencies at the ‘centre’ (whether that be Scottish Government or other public bodies) to relinquish power. While over the last decade more has been asked of local government in terms of delivery, much of the power to control programmes and spend still resides with Scottish government. If, for example, local government was given more power to make their own decisions, or more national policies were allowed variation at the local level, this could enable greater innovation and scaling up of community-specific programmes and collaborations. Some of this local action is hyper-local; including local authorities working with communities for projects like community asset transfer so that communities can scale up their good work with a small investment from public services. This is an example of how local public services can build ‘scaffolding’ so that people can do for themselves. However, as one of the participants noted, there are also inherent tensions with more empowerment at the local level; it may take longer to make any reforms, communities may want to keep acute services in place instead of shifting to prevention activities, and some empowerment activities may only seem to benefit communities with existing levels of social capital.
Additionally, with the freedom to innovate at the local level there was also a recognition of the need to embed leadership – not just leaders – locally. This includes incentivising local public servants to do more preventative work in their programmes, for example, but also developing ways to reward them when they are less risk averse. The roundtable pointed to the themes and recommendations in in COSLA’s Blueprint for Local Governmentto sharpen focus in this area.
Greater interrogation and scrutiny
Public budgets will continue to have to do more with less, especially as the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis become clearer. There are challenges already evident that will put pressure on public budgets; including the need for education interventions to address those who may need to ‘catch up’, and a health system that must address the backlog of services suspended or delayed over the last year. There are also challenges that will only become clearer in the medium- to long-term, including the full health and economic impacts of the crisis as well as the social fallout of isolation and lockdown on mental health and social life. Because of these pressures it was suggested that it is now more important than ever for last year’s spending to be scrutinised by the new Scottish Parliament, which they now have more power to do. This scrutiny can allow Parliament to truly hold public services to account, especially in areas where there was a large injection of spending during the crisis. This scrutiny must also extend beyond public budgets (usually only scrutinised in draft form) into programmes and services that would encourage longer-term planning. The discussion raised some interesting questions that need to be asked of our public services, particularly ‘What can we live with?’ and ‘What happens if we do nothing?’ Evaluating the impacts of the ‘status quo’ continuing in the long term was noted as an important activity for public service leaders to undertake to make the case for change.
Improving community empowerment
To improve community empowerment (the ‘People’ pillar) at the local level, a commitment to implementing the principles of the Scottish Approach to Service Design was recommended at the roundtable. This approach aims to empower service users and redesign services with them to address their needs, which will likely require local authorities to build the systems to work with communities effectively. This type of work is already happening in some parts of public service delivery, but more progress is needed. It was recognised that one of the key challenges is translating these principles into action, particularly when wider institutional and (big & small p) politics sets the backdrop for reform. Rather than re-opening debates about the ‘Scottish approach’, more time should be devoted to delivery and resolving practical challenges that impede its rollout.
Another way to improve how public services interact with citizens brought up in the discussion was via digital tools. One possibility, made more possible by reforms in data handling and technology, could be for people to ‘own’ and manage their own data with greater empowerment to access things like their service history and engage with services when needed. Of course, one challenge is to ensure that this does not widen digital inequalities, which have been particularly exposed in the current crisis.
Finally, community empowerment comes from strong relationships between community members and staff in public services. There are promising practices in some areas of service delivery, such as self-directed support in social care and the social prescribing model, that can be considered for adoption and adaptation in other areas such as holistic family support. This puts user voices at the heart of delivery, focussing on asset-based models of services. The discussion also noted that community empowerment also can be improved by providing community organisations with support and flexibility to innovate with peer/volunteering services and in service delivery, which can then be supplemented by statutory services. While there is potential to be found in some promising practices, overall we have not yet lived up to this principle – and other principles – of Christie. It is valuable to interrogate some of the very real challenges of making community empowerment, for example, a pillar of reform that does not empower some communities over others and therefore widen inequalities.
This blog captures just some of the key points for discussion from the roundtable, which we hope will enable you to reflect on how your own work can and does drive forward the principles of the Christie Commission. As we celebrate this document’s first ten years and consider where public services can improve in the next phase, we will be hosting another event in the autumn that aims to highlight promising practices and key voices.
Listen to the Spotlight podcast
The issues detailed in this policy roundtable were also discussed on the University of Glasgow’s Spotlight Podcast, with hosts and panellists Professor Graeme Roy, Kezia Dugdale, Professor James Mitchell and Caroline Gardner.
Key Messages About Public Service Reform in Scotland
What Works Scotland’s lessons for public service reform in Scotland, published at the conclusion of the four-year programme set up in response to the Christie Commission.
Policy Scotland COVID-19 project
Access local, national and international insights into public policy issues arising from coronavirus pandemic, from a wide range of researchers and organisations.
Image credit: georgeclerk | iStockphoto