Open Public Services - making it happen

Steve Beet shares his ideas about maximising the opportunities on offer from the Government’s Open Public Services agenda.


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The government’s open public services agenda raises a number of significant opportunities. One in particular that we’re interested in is the introduction of a more diverse supply chain - new organisations coming in to deliver public services. Now there’s a number of real benefits for this, certainly you can have access to innovation and talent and new organisations, for example the voluntary sector coming in, with their passion for doing public services in a different way. Secondly it brings in opportunities around new organisations bringing in new approaches for delivering public services and also can introduce significant cost reductions in the way public services are done. So the open public services agenda provides a massive opportunity to reshaping how public services are delivered.

I see it as there being four main barriers for open public services:

  • The first is around risk aversion. The government is cautious by its very nature and change is something that takes a while to get used to.
  • The second is around sponsorship, it’s about having some very evangelical sponsors who are prepared to actually take on the structure of government and take on the risk of it happening in the first place and taking leadership roles.
  • The third really is whether or not there’s a ready market of suppliers out there, ready to pick up the ball, as Government is looking for them to do, and getting involved in delivery.
  • And the final, is confusion. There is some real confusion about what the options are, what the rules are and what the best way of doing it is.

I think there’s really four key questions that need to the answered:

  • The first is which model to choose. There are a whole range of models that can be chosen and it’s important not to jump to the model without analysing and looking at the range of options that are available in deciding which option to go for.
  • The second issue really is about how the plan should be worked and we’ll come on to talk on the plan, but the plan really is about the timeline for getting it done and we think it’s a sort of 9-18 month cycle typically in actually making this happen.
  • The third is that a number of issues, there’s some, a number of legal issues, there’s issues around staff transfer, issues around pensions need to be addressed and there are some quite difficult regulatory hurdles to be overcome along the journey and the final challenge, really, is where to go for help and there’s help available from the government, help available from organisations like PwC in the advisory community.

I think the barriers we’ve talked about, the questions we’ve talked about, can be addressed and I think really it’s a very exciting opportunity. The key thing now is to get mobilised on a plan...There’s been a lot of talk about opening up public services, introducing new models - it’s now a time for action. So it’s actually getting that business case developed, it’s getting the idea approved, it’s actually getting on board the extra skills and expertise that you need to actually make the change. So there’s been enough talk now, there really is a need to getting on with the action, getting that plan in place.

In March 2012, the Cabinet Office published ‘Open Public Services 2012’, articulating the Government’s proposals for a more diverse, competitive and accountable public service landscape, and committing to opening up public services to a wide range of providers and models.

The new world of Open Public Services presents valuable opportunities for improvement and innovation, replacing ‘top down monopolies’ with diverse and dynamic markets of suppliers, competing to offer a better service for users. The Government would like to see new models for delivering public services – such as joint ventures, social enterprises and public service mutuals.

But for new business models to work, multiple barriers must be overcome – from risk aversion and confusion over the options to questions about the readiness of the market ‘to pick up the ball’ and deliver services. How can government and public sector organisations maximise the opportunities on offer from Open Public Services, and key barriers be resolved? What are the options for alternative public service business models? And how can these be put in place? Steve Beet explores further in this short video.