Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

2020 Future: Public service working harder

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As part of the ongoing 2020 Future research project, Robert Hill looks at the changes likely to affect public services in the next decade.

The last 12 years have seen large rises in public spending. The health service has been the biggest winner but per pupil spending has gone up by nearly 80 per cent in real terms.

Services have improved significantly: waiting times for hospital treatments are down; survival rates are up; attainment at 11, 16 and 19 has risen; and levels of crime have reduced. But the next decade poses big challenges.

Public spending restraint. If growth characterised the last decade of spending settlements then restraint will be the watchword for most if not the whole of the next. The government is legislating to halve the deficit over four years and the Conservatives have indicated that they might take even more radical measures to reduce government debt levels.

Co-production and co-payment. The most obvious way to fund shortfalls in spending for public services is to raise taxes - but politicians know that there is a limit. Co-production - that is, users playing a role in delivering a service - is one idea that is being developed. Co-payment will also be extended. Congestion charging, tuition fees and climate change levies (on flights) are recent examples of how we now contribute towards services.

Smarter spending. The squeeze on public spending will increase the pressure to use resources in a smarter way. The government has set big efficiency targets across the public sector. It is also encouraging all the local public agencies in each area to collaborate or even merge in order to share services, resources and back-office functions.

Entitlements and personalisation. By April 2011, 30 per cent of elderly and disabled people will be receiving Individual Budgets based on an assessment of their care needs. They will be entitled to either a cash payment or a budget that they can spend as they wish on meeting their care needs. This approach could be extended to areas such as childcare, further education and special needs education.

Focus on inequality. The major political parties are committed to increasing social mobility. Too much deprivation funding 'sticks to the sides' and never reaches those for whom it is intended. So we can expect funding for the most disadvantaged to be attached to individuals. It may even be that recipients will have some say or 'lock' on the use of such funding to ensure that it is actually spent on them.

Reforms to the supply side. education the Conservatives propose to introduce the Swedish free school model that would enable parents, charities or businesses to set up state-funded, independently run schools. Several think tanks are arguing for a social enterprise model of public sector delivery in which services are provided, led and owned by frontline workers and the communities they serve.

New forms of accountability. Top-down targets are being replaced with rights for users of services - even if this move is being undertaken in a very clumsy legal fashion. Performance management regimes are beginning to focus on outcomes rather than inputs and on providing individual users and local communities with intelligent information on the performance of local services. Some rationalisation of inspection regimes across the public sector looks inevitable.

Workforce reform. Pay review bodies are likely to stay but with their remit redefined to focus on the topline annual increase rather than on detailed grading and staffing issues. Those working in the public sector face having to contribute more to their pensions, retiring later and/or having more limited retirement benefits.

Implications
To find out what these trends mean for school and college leaders, and how they should plan for low or even zero spending increases, read the full briefing on the impact of public services at www.ascl.org.uk/home/publications/2020_future You will also be able to download the previous six briefing papers.

Robert Hill is a former government adviser and has worked on several ASCL projects.

© 2017 Association of School and College Leaders