Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by the Office of Public Services Reform (NC 03)



  1.  On 22 June 2001 the Prime Minister announced the formation of the Office of Public Services (OPSR) along with its sister units the Forward Strategy Unit and the Delivery Unit to support the Government's ability to deliver better public services.

  2.  Its role is to support the Prime Minister and government departments in carrying forward the reform of public services, enhancing the competence and capacity of public services, including the civil service and local government.


Customer Focus

  3.  Successful reform will depend on continuing popular support for public services, and relies on the commitment of people working to deliver them. Delivery will be judged by how people experience services themselves and how they perceive or hear about them. So the customer and citizen must lie at the heart of policy-making and service delivery.

  4.  We are raising the profile of the customer's views across public services. One way is to bring together survey data about customer satisfaction into departments' consideration of policy and drive for reform. Departments are now more regularly seeking the views of their customers. Drawing on what has been done to date, OPSR has established a picture of what customers think of schools, health services, police, public transport and local government. As the research develops, it is becoming possible to examine trends over time and differentiate them by locality and specific service. In the most advanced areas, we can now identify the key factors that are driving satisfaction and focusing improvements on them.

  5.  On the basis of this experience, working across departments and with MORI, OPSR has produced a good practice guide for the collection and analysis of customer data. Our aim is that a focus on customers will bring an outward perspective to the work of government in public services and represent an important lever for cultural change.

  6.  OPSR's recommendations are being fed into Treasury guidance to departments on Delivery Plans to be prepared for PSA targets, so that measuring progress includes an assessment from the public's viewpoint.

Communicating the Principles of Reform

  7.  We know that successfully achieving change requires continual communication to the people involved; communication about why change is necessary, and explanation of the steps that are being taken to achieve it. Getting the reform message across to people working in public services is thus a critical task.

  8.  A pamphlet from the Government, "Reforming our Public Services: principles into practice", was published in March, and is available in the public services section of the 10 Downing Street website at This pamphlet was distributed to nearly five thousand senior managers in public services. Of the 70 per cent who recall receiving it, over 90 per cent read it and over 70 per cent thought it was of value.

  9.  OPSR has led a series of seminars across departments and the wider public services, to directly communicate the principles and discuss their application in services and localities.

Public Services Managers and Employees

  10.  OPSR is starting to analyse departments' employee satisfaction data alongside customer data, as there is often correlation between the two. OPSR recently commissioned MORI to follow-up the pamphlet produced in March with a short survey on the attitudes of senior managers in health, education, police, transport and local government and senior civil servants in the relevant departments.

  11.  MORI questioned 50 headteachers (25 primary, 25 secondary), 50 health trust chief executives (25 primary care, 25 hospital), 50 basic command unit police commanders, and 50 local authority chief executives. In addition, MORI questioned a random sample of 92 senior civil servants working in DfES, Department of Health, Home Office and DTLR (as was).

  12.  The results of the survey show that there is a real sense that progress is being made on reform, and that the principles are recognised and supported. The results will be published shortly along with the next steps to be taken.

Local Delivery of National Standards

  13.  People's experience of reform happens in their encounters with particular services. OPSR is developing new models of delivery in line with the principles in specific services, working with the Department of Health, DTLR (now ODPM) and the Department for Education and Skills.

Local Government

  14.  Our first local focus was on local government, working closely with the then DTLR to take further the modernisation programme on the basis of the reform principles. At the heart of these changes lies the commitment to Better Quality Services and Community Leadership, by creating a framework of freedoms and responsibility to deliver.

  15.  OPSR has taken particular responsibility for:

    —  Performance Management: The design of the performance management framework set out in the recent Local Government White Paper of December 2001.

    —  National PSA for Local Government: Leading the cross-Government work on a new national PSA for local government, which will be completed by July as part of the 2002 Spending Review.

    —  Capacity to Implement the Local Government White Paper: A review commissioned by the Prime Minister, from the then Secretary of State, to examine Government's capacity to implement the white paper.


  16.  OPSR is working with the Department of Health to take forward the development of Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) in three key areas:

    —  Leadership—Developing high-calibre clinical and managerial leaders.

    —  Choice—Developing practical measures to increase patient choice and contestability.

    —  Incentives and Rewards—Ensuring that reform is delivered through providing the right framework of incentives and rewards.

  17.  Following consideration by the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister, many of OPSR's recommendations were included in the Department of Health Command Paper, "Delivering the NHS Plan". Governed by a joint steering group, OPSR is now engaged in supporting the implementation of those programmes on the ground through close links to the Department, PCTs and representative bodies.

  OPSR is leading work in the following areas:

    —  Walk-in Centres—Looking at the concept of walk-in centres and making proposals for the next phase of their development. The aim is to ensure they are relevant to the public, play a full part in their local health care system and are sustained with the right service coverage, role, staffing and locations. We need to plan the right number at a reasonable cost.

    —  PCT Capital Development—Proposals are being drawn up to ensure PCT service development plans incorporate the latest thinking and the Local Improvement Finance Trust (LIFT) timetable does not create any delays.

    —  PCT Service Development—A review is underway of the potential opportunities and international best practice for public/private mix in the provision of primary care services.

    —  Performance Management—Contributing to the assessment framework being developed by the Commission for Health Improvement (CHI) for reporting on PCT performance to the public, our aim is to apply consistent reporting and rating schemes across different services.

    —  Open Book—OPSR is studying the extent of current "open book" relationships between acute trusts and PCTs and preparing advice for hospitals on extending this approach and empowering them to take advantage of it in their commissioning decisions.


  18.  OPSR is working with DfES to review the capacity of schools to act as drivers of changes that will further raise levels of attainment, and the potential for extending greater autonomy to high-performing schools and incentives for others. Meetings and interviews have been conducted with 87 headteachers and 23 teachers of the most improved schools in the country and 31 other experts including academics, private sector consultants, inspection and regulatory bodies and Non-Departmental Public Bodies. On the basis of this research and discussions with DfES, proposals have been developed for consideration by the Secretary of State and Prime Minister.

  19.  Our work across different local services and local government allows lessons to be exchanged across sectors and the customer to remain in focus.


  20.  OPSR's communications with public services customers and employees in health, education and local government have included analysis of the processes that underpin delivery, and identified ways to make these more efficient and less bureaucratic. Our experiences as well as that of the government's work on deregulation demonstrate that whilst direction and control are intrinsic in effective policy implementation, over-prescription can create a culture of compliance, sap creativity, stifle innovation and customer responsiveness.

  21.  OPSR is developing a "life-cycle" model for the delivery of policy which shows the process by which implementation takes effect through targets, bidding and ring-fenced funding, guidance, monitoring and data collection.

  22.  This is an emerging area for OPSR and we are bringing together proposals, working closely with the Regulatory Impact Unit, for Ministers to consider shortly

Civil Service Leadership and Capacity to Deliver

  23.  The Departmental Change Programme is currently being piloted by OPSR with reviews completed with DEFRA, and underway with the Scottish Executive and the Lord Chancellor's Department. A major seminar on the features of High Performing Departments was organised by OPSR on 25 July 2002. Targeted at those leading Government Departments, the session was chaired by Lord Macdonald, with contributions from experts and academics and case histories from central and local government. At the seminar, Wendy Thomson presented OPSR's vision of what drives high performance, which will shape departmental change going forward.

  24.  When the OPSR was established, it was asked to advise on reform of the civil service and help make it more fit for purpose. After consulting officials across Whitehall and assessing the levers available to effect change from the centre, we proposed a Departmental Change Programme. The approach is based on three stages:

    —  A high level picture of the features of high performing organisations—this is along the lines of the work done on "successful schools". This has been customised to fit the responsibilities of particular government departments.

    —  A review by a joint team of people from inside and outside the department to assess their department against this picture, identifying their strengths and weaknesses and priorities for change.

    —  A tailor-made change programme for the department to increase its capacity to deliver over a two to three-year time scale.

  25.  This approach provides a practical way for OPSR to work alongside departments, helping them to focus on key priorities, to understand their capacity and to improve it. Though starting with departments, it identifies issues and opportunities for change across traditional structures and develops projects to take these opportunities forward.

  26.  The DCP brings together expertise from across the centre (e-envoy, Civil Service Corporate Management and Reform, Regulatory Impact Unit, HM Treasury and the Office of Government Commerce) and outside experts to work strategically with departments, thereby reducing disjointed initiatives and concerns about interference.

  27.  When introduced on a systematic basis as Sir Andrew Turnbull has indicated he intends to do, it will build up a critical mass for change across the service. It is organised around a structured model of a high-performing organisation and covers the following elements:

    —  Leadership and governance—vision and strategy, management structures and processes, and capacity for change.

    —  Policy-making—the effectiveness of the department's policymaking in terms of public outcomes and evidence-based processes.

    —  Customers and service delivery—the degree to which the department's structures and processes are designed around customers' requirements and deliver to customers its policy intentions effectively and efficiently.

    —  Planning, performance and business processes.

    —  Communications.

    —  Resource strategy and management (Human Resources, Finance and Information and Communications Technology).

Improving Programme and Project Delivery

  28.  This is a cross-departmental project with the Office of Government Commerce to enhance government's capability and capacity to get programmes and projects delivered to time, cost and quality. It aims to stimulate a public service culture that takes responsibility for ensuring that the policies it develops are deliverable and delivered.

  29.  OPSR is working with departments, helping them to set up "centres of excellence" that will contribute to developing and implementing solutions in three areas:

    —  People and skills—for departments to assess and develop a strategy for increasing their programme and project management capacity. This includes changing job design and reward packages, recruitment approaches, promotion and performance systems and designing and implementing skills training specially targeted to each tier of the programme and project management process.

    —  Programme/project management (PPM) systems and toolkits—OPSR is designing a scalable PPM framework for departments to tailor and implement, to include risk assessment of delivery/PSA targets. The framework will be web-based and include guidance and systems for each level of the PPM hierarchy of scrutiny, oversight and delivery.

    —  Culture and environment—the support structures needed to enable senior management to implement a programme/project approach to delivery.

OPSR's New Role—Leading Public Services Reform

  30.  As Sir Andrew Turnbull's recent paper on the centre of government sets out, OPSR's key responsibilities for the future will be to focus on reform of public services (eg the health service, schools, local policing, local government), taking responsibility for work on:

    —  Communicating the principles and values of public service reform and customer focus to the wider public service, identifying and promoting best practice.

    —  Models for improving public service delivery by working with departments on more flexible structures, systems, processes, and ways of involving the private and voluntary sectors.

    —  Pay and recruitment problems in the public sector.

    —  Developing systems for managing cross-cutting issues affecting service delivery, and improving links between departments and the wider public sector (along the lines of its recent DTLR local government study), including the use of e-technology.

    —  Devising improved methods of public service management that reduce the impact of regulation on front line services, working with departments and the Public Sector Team of the Regulatory Impact Unit (RIU).


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Prepared 29 July 2002