We can’t wait for the financial storm to blow over

Michael Trickey reports on the impact of the spending squeeze on the delivery of Welsh public services.

Two reports on the future public services in Wales, published last week, offer the first detailed analysis of the unprecedented financial and demand pressures which public services in Wales face over the next decade. Commissioned by the Wales Public Services 2025 programme they stress the urgency of building a response. As ever the really difficult question is what that should be.

In his report Pressures on Welsh Public Services, Mark Jeffs warns of a possible  revenue funding gap of between £2.6 billion and £4.6 billion by 2025. Bridging this is likely to require an unprecedented growth in productivity and efficiency – or a major shift in fiscal policy and taxation. He looks at the scope for responses such as co-production, lean systems, demand management and early intervention and prevention.

The other report Scenarios for the Welsh Government Budget to 2025-26, produced by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, contains similar messages. It concludes that by 2018 the Welsh Government is likely to have between 14 and 17 per cent less to spend than in 2010. Looking beyond 2018, it warns of the impact of a growing and ageing population as well as other demand and cost pressures. There will be tough trade-offs to make between health, social care and schools on one hand, and all other public services such as transport, culture, leisure and housing on the other.

The underlying message is that to sustain public services and deliver the outcomes we seek, we need to be prepared to rethink the way they are designed and delivered, the relationship between public services and the community, and the future role of public servants.

Many of these issues surfaced at the Wales Public Services 2025 conference last week at which the reports were launched. Participants from the civil service, local government, health, housing, and the third sector, recognised that the scale of the pressures meant that a strategy of waiting for the storm to blow itself out was unlikely to work. Putting things off could make matters worse.

Workshops looked at the business case for co-production in health, the scope for local government to re-invent itself and the possible development of a public innovation hub. The lack of good intelligence on service users, what they wanted from public services and the variable quality and use of data more widely, came up many times.   There were great stories of individual change projects in innovation in Wales. The issue is how to turn this creativity into systemic change.

The conference heard an update from Sir Paul Williams on the Commission for the Governance and Delivery of Public Services in Wales. Its work is crucial – but it is important to keep the momentum up in other ways as well. The focus for Wales Public Services 2025 will now shift from analysing the problem to looking in greater depth at just how a radical transformation might be achieved.

None of this is likely to be straightforward. But the report from the Commission on Public Service Governance and Delivery in Wales in the next few months will provide a potentially powerful context. We have to be ready to make the most of any opportunity it offers.

Michael Trickey is Director of the Wales Public Services 2025 Programme (http://www.walespublicservices2025.org.uk/)

6 thoughts on “We can’t wait for the financial storm to blow over

  1. It is good that people are informed about the impending spending squeeze, and what effect that may have for our public services. What I didn’t get here, though, is any sense of what Michael Trickey, in his role as Director of the 2025 Programme actually thinks about these developments. Some comment or critique please Michael?

  2. Economic Shipping forecast issued on behalf of the citizens, business organisations and institutions of Wales at 19.00 Wednesday 2nd October:

    Let me begin by saying that, I have huge respect for Michael Trickey and Sir Paul Williams and that I am a supporter of both the Wales Public Services (PS) 2025 Programme and the Commission on Public Service, Governance and Delivery in Wales.

    They both talked recently about the challenges we face in Wales at the excellent PS2025 “Brave New Wales” Conference in Cardiff Bay last week.

    I served in the public sector for three decades. I am immensely proud of, and passionate about, our public services. I have, more recently, spent nearly three years and chosen to invest over £500,000 of my own resources into Global research into how public- and state- funded organisations can and do transform themselves. I attended the Brave new Wales Conference hoping to hear an analysis and evaluation of the challenges ahead, and, more importantly, the planned solutions. Sadly, I came away from the event clear that nothing worthy of the title “innovative” had been discussed; old beer in new bottles! Let me say this conclusion has nothing to do with the organisers of the event or the Programme itself.

    To me it was like being in a dream. Everyone present knew about the cliff-edge the public services are facing. Everyone knew that massive change is needed and yet most continue to sleepwalk towards the edge. Everyone knew urgent intervention is needed. However, despite the efforts of the Programme and the excellent speakers there seemed to be an all-pervasive mist of inactivity and inertia in the conference room. As I looked around the room, filled with some superb public service leaders, I could almost see it swirling around their feet. Like the Emperor’s new clothes, all of the public sector courtiers, were unable or perhaps unwilling to say the things that everyone deep-down, knew should be voiced. No-one wanted to speak about the brutal reality that the Emperor was bare!

    My message is that the time for hesitancy, group denial, and talking-shops about so-called radical-change is over.

    Taking Local Government as an example, the failure to take decisive action in 2010 has cost this Nation dearly. We calculate that over the last three years, had certain well-researched tough decisions been taken, it would have led to: over £3.5BN in efficiencies; no job losses; and no cuts to services. More crucially, it would have enabled a redirection of vast sums of money into vital investment in infrastructure, housing, job creation and economic growth initiatives.

    Major public sector supply-side reforms that should have been based upon the core values of inclusivity, citizen-first, equality, fairness and Value for Money simply have NOT been progressed. What is striking for me, given my firm’s research, is that many of the standard 1980s recessionary-toolkit management responses that have been deployed by leaders/managers to date, simply cannot deliver anywhere near the scale of productivity increases and expenditure reductions we need to achieve.

    The tough messages that no-one currently seems to be able to articulate and then follow through with Bold, Adaptive, Level-5, Leadership and Service, are:

    * Demand will significantly increase throughout the next decade – not tail off;

    * We have been borrowing to sustain the current public service model in Wales since the crisis broke in 2010;

    * We are facing a massive public- and personal- debt crisis that will, even if nothing adverse happens (and it always does), result in a decade of downward fiscal pressure and restraint;

    * Our current traditional response has been well “off the pace” and has cost the Nation dearly in terms of lost opportunity;

    * The vast challenges we face are in fact well beyond Party Politics, beyond Management versus Trade Union, and beyond Worker versus Management;

    * Any old-fashioned 20th Century MBA-driven reorganisation or restructuring will have a devastating impact upon society, communities and families in a country that already has high levels of social deprivation;

    * Crude reorganisations based on re-casting the well-past-their “use-by-date” industrial era operating models and systems will result in 60,000+ jobs being lost – devastating communities and families;

    * The Trade Unions need to engage in formulating new terms and conditions that leverage the precious employment opportunities offered through the public sector for the many not just the lucky few. If they don’t, history will declare them as contributing to a social catastrophe;

    * The power Barons in the Bay need to SELFLESSLY shape and communicate a uniting vision of the future and back BOLD ACTION NOW.

    A failure by our leaders (executive, trade union and political) to take decisive action now will represent a catastrophic failure of governance and a dereliction of responsibility.

    I am, like many others I speak with, frustrated at the lack of vision, the lack of courage and the deferral to industrial-era thinking that, everyone really knows is pervasive here in Wales but are afraid to say out loud.

    Where is the vision for Wales Public Services?

    Where are the bold courageous decisions needed to unite employee, citizen, trade union and management on a joint quest towards the best possible outcomes for the people of Wales?

    How do we break down the influence of some powerful vested interests and work together to shape new Public Sector Value Propositions? Although incredibly tough to implement, these should be based upon fairness, equity, inclusivity and putting our Citizens First!

    Despite the challenges and the lack for progress so far, I firmly believe that Wales can change and the public sector has a significant role ahead in leading us out of the debt crisis. It is not just a matter for the private sector.

    I wish the PS2025 Programme and the Commission well. In order for them to make a real difference they need to link up as platforms for informing, supporting, enabling, encouraging and empowering decisive, profitable and sustainable innovation. Wales needs such platforms for connecting, uniting and collaborating. And we need them now.

    We know the Code can be Cracked!

    Come and visit the Enigma machine that is the Dew Cadre to find out how.

  3. Words, words, words. But you don’t summarize what concretely people should do. No good moaning. Outline in a paragraph the essential elements of public service reform in Wales. Then people will be motivated to go to your reference point and dig in further. If it make sense, many of us will rally to the cause. But another load of empty, windy rhetoric about how it’s all wrong and should be right gets us nowhere. Sometimes I fear Welsh culture is antipathetic to the detailed, the practical and the concrete. We just trade blather – like this piece.

  4. Mr Michael Trickey omits to say that we should save as much money as possible and loyally hand back the savings to our proper government in London so that their policy can be maintained.What about handing responsibility for Health and Education over to Westminster for a start? At least the people of 0f Wales would get an improved service for less money.

  5. Bold leadership OK but to do what?

    PHCD, You don’t say why a government to whom you are of no importance electorally will be more concerned to do a better job for you than one to whom you are all-important electorally. Westminster governments don’t care about Wales. Why should they? They are not hostile, just indifferent so if they do the right thing for Wales it can only be by accident. Our lot may not be wonderful but the standard they have to beat is very low.

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