Memorandum by the Office of Public Services
Reform (PSR 33)
1. The role of the Office of Public Services
Reform (OPSR) is to advise the Prime Minister on how the Government's
commitment to radical reform of the public services, including
the civil service, can be taken forward. It covers the full range
of public services, including those provided by central and local
government, as well as other public bodies. Working closely with
the Civil Service Corporate Management and Reform team and others,
it is fundamentally examining current structures, systems, incentives
and skills, and the nature of services currently provided. It
is located in the Cabinet Office, and reports to the Prime Minister
through the Secretary of the Cabinet, Sir Richard Wilson. OPSR
is a small office, in the process of recruiting about 25-30 high
calibre staff, drawn from the civil service, public services and
the private sector.
2. OPSR is led by Dr Wendy Thomson. She
was formerly Director of Inspections at the Audit Commission and
Chief Executive of the London Borough of Newham. At the Audit
Commission she held a newly created post, where she developed
and implemented the Best Value inspection programme across local
government. She was instrumental in getting the scheme up and
running within a tight time frame. At Newham, under her leadership
the Council improved its service performance and adopted a radical
approach to regeneration, tackling poverty and improving the quality
of life in the inner city. She also served on the Government's
Urban Task Force chaired by Sir Richard Rogers.
3. The role of the centre of government
is to enable delivery of the Government's objectives for the public
services. To strengthen and extend that ability, and provide a
strategic lead at the centre of government, three new units were
created immediately after the General Election in June 2001. The
Forward Strategy Unit, led by Geoff Mulgan, and supported by the
Performance and Innovation Unit, does blue skies policy thinking
for the Prime Minister on specific issues. The Prime Minister's
Delivery Unit, led by Michael Barber, has the role of ensuring
that the Government achieves its main objectives in four key areas
of public service: health, education, crime reduction and transport.
In doing so it works closely with the Treasury to ensure that
the targets that have already been agreed are achieved. OPSR's
role is to work on the competence and capacity of the public services.
It is doing this by working collaboratively with the other two
new units, and with existing units such as Civil Service Corporate
Management and Reform, the e-Envoy, the Centre for Management
and Policy Studies, the Office of Government Commerce and the
Regulatory Impact Unit.
4. The Government wishes to improve the
public services, and it recognises that this requires both investment
and reform. Investment on its own can make a significant difference
of course, but it is not necessarily enough. Reform matters too,
to put into practice the Government's determination to foster
social justice, improve the quality of life and create a sense
of mutual responsibility and community. The Government is committed
to increased investment, but believes that on its own this is
not enough. It must be accompanied by reform.
5. To realise this Government's vision,
public services have to address more closely the needs and expectations
of modern citizens. The Prime Minister's speeches on public services
have outlined four principles of reform that must accompany new
investment. They are:
(1) high national standards and full accountability
(2) devolution to the local level to encourage
diversity and creativity
(3) flexibility at the front line to support
modern public services
(4) the promotion of greater choice and alternative
6. All four principles stem from an over-riding
commitment to putting customers first. They focus attention on
services becoming more explicitly designed around the customer.
The success of the services is likely to be judged by people's
experiences and perceptions of those services, as well as objective
measures of performance.
7. The relationship between national policy
and customers is more complex in public services than in commercial
ones since most services cannot choose to deliver services to
some customers and not others. This makes it even more important
that the relationship is understood and worked through in delivery.
It is the first step in aligning policy and programmes to deliver
outcomes that matter to the public.
8. Once the importance of the customer is
recognised, then public services will be seen more clearly to
demonstrate certain characteristicsto respond to customers'
requirements as well as deliver policy outcomes. Ideally these
twopolicy aims and customer wishescome together.
This relationship between national policy and customer experience
is one key to successful delivery.
9. There are important reasons why all four
principles need to be applied together in each service in order
for excellent public services to be delivered:
national standards can only be delivered
through devolved delivery since customers encounter services locally
equally, responsibility for delivery
can only be devolved where there is confidence that national standards
are being met
delivering national standards requires
organisational flexibility and better rewarded staff
where there is not the capacity or
the capability to meet standards this suggests a need for capacity
building and alternative providers.
1 HIGH NATIONAL
10. Putting the customer first means ensuring
that the public services deliver what people want, in the manner
that meets their needs best. As research has shown, the public
regards services as good if they are reliable and safe. They want
competent and courteous staff. And they want to be able to choose
services that are fair and accessible. This points to the importance
of national standards for public services that put these features
first. For example, Public Service Agreement (PSA) targets link
investment with reform by holding departments accountable for
the delivery of improvements. Such targets aim to meet public
expectations of improving services and improved standards of delivery.
11. Performance targets are an essential
discipline for managers. The Government recognises that targets
must also resonate with service users. Successful delivery of
public services is about the experience of customers, rather than
purely achieving prescribed outputs. If delivery is to be reformed
successfully, public servants with a better understanding of who
their different customers are could focus more closely on those
customers' needs. Performance data could be tied into strategic
planning and management in ways that put the customer first. This
is why the Guidance for the next Spending Review asks Departments
to embed the four principles of reform into their plans and target
12. Many citizens today have higher expectations
than their parents and grandparents. They know their rights and
entitlements. But their expectations differ, so services are faced
with the challenge of catering for a variety of needs. Customers
want standards, but not uniformity. Government too wants minimum
standards. At the same time, it believes innovation can promote
improvement and excellence. If these goals compete, there could
be difficulty in achieving the desired outcome of customer focus.
13. Government also seeks to be clear who
is accountable for delivering standards. Locally, service providers
are increasingly visible and identified by name. But such transparency
does not always extend to the middle and higher reaches of government
departments. OPSR can contribute to identifying what standards
most matter for effective public service delivery and how far
clear frameworks of accountability exist for delivering them.
We will also look at feedback about the consistency of high standards
in service delivery.
2 DEVOLUTION TO
14. Clearly defined standards are best delivered
close to the customer, within a framework of accountability. People
want their problem fully dealt with "first time" rather
rather than having to return after authority has been "checked"
up the line. The extras that matter to satisfied customers are
often the result of local initiatives rather than central prescription.
They are understood by staff motivated to go the extra mile. In
delivery systems too, innovations and efficiencies are often best
generated where local managers are motivated and rewarded for
15. Good systems and processes harness resources
from other sectors or public bodies. They involve the customer
more actively in solving problems. Employees require confidence
to take more responsibility and take risks, and in turn devolution
sometimes arouses scepticism at the centre. So there needs to
be evidence to show and support what works.
16. The Government recognises the importance
of having clear targets and priorities. The idea that intervention
should be in inverse proportion to success is being taken into
account more widely. This principle is important for central government
agencies, local authorities, health and police authorities and
government offices as well as front line delivery organisations.
OPSR is seeking to stimulate debate, and share good practice on
the best arrangements for supporting the devolved delivery of
3 FLEXIBILITY AT
17. Realigning services around the customer
means enabling people at the front line to work in different ways.
As customers are not all the same, more changes are needed in
the ways services are provided, to reflect a closer recognition
of different work and life patterns as well as different needs.
This affects the hours that public services are open, whether
customers are expected to come to the office or whether staff
can go out to locations or use other modes of communication that
are more accessible, and at times that are more convenient, for
the customers. Deciding exactly what these changes imply for each
locality means devolving consideration of these factors to the
most local level, so that front line staff with the necessary
local knowledge can ensure the best fit between need and provision,
especially for their "harder to reach" customers.
18. This principle has four elements:
(a) flexibility of staff and public service
(b) incentives to motivate new ways of working
(c) rewarding success so that good services prosper
and poor ones improve or are replaced
(d) reducing bureaucracy to improve productivity
and focus people on outcomes rather than rules and procedures.
19. Introducing such changes will often
challenge traditional demarcations, restrictive practices and
poor management. While some public services are addressing these
reforms, many still rely on traditional ways of working. Other
parts of the economy are combining skills in different ways to
produce better results more efficiently. Information and communications
technology (ICT) has the potential to transform delivery, changing
dramatically both working relationships and the quality of services.
The electronic delivery of government services is an important
step now in the process of being introduced, and it depends in
part upon public servants being fully equipped for the changes
that will be taking place over the next few years.
20. Fair systems of rewards tend to reflect
more closely where there is additional responsibility on front
line staff as a result of new working arrangements. Incentives
to improve performance could show tangible rewards for success.
For individuals this may mean more money or responsibility. Government
could differentiate between services based on actual performance.
Better services could receive more freedom and flexibility. They
could be rewarded for their success. Failing services could have
incentives to improve. And intervention could be in proportion
to the risk presented to the public good and customer interests.
21. If existing public service staff are
to support change, they need to feel confident that their interests
are safeguarded when services are reorganised or where they are
expected to perform new roles or acquire new skills. Continuous
service improvement requires continuous staff training and development
so they gain the confidence that comes with knowing they are being
employed for their personal contribution and skills. Excellent
public services are likely to want to attract the best people
in a competitive labour market. That implies showing public servants
more clearly that their work is valued and that they are being
treated fairlyrewarded for their contribution rather than
mainly for seniority or because they have a job for life. For
example, more flexible pay systems are being introduced in the
civil service. This is a major philosophical change in government
thinking about fairness and justiceone where it is not
always fair to treat everyone the same, regardless of their performance
22. Finally, this principle also entails
cutting through what the public and staff experience as the "bureaucracy"
and red tape of public services. This includes reducing hierarchies,
cutting form filling, internal rules and procedures, and removing
vertical "off-line" controls and monitoring of resources.
For example, the Regulatory Impact Unit and departments are working
to reduce the paperwork required by doctors, police and teachers.
In the end such changes could make it easier and quicker to deliver
a policy to the public, and improve productivity as well as quality.
4 THE PROMOTION
23. This principle has attracted the most
interest, and is seen by some as a large part of the new public
service "offer". In fact, it is not all that new, and
it is clear that even with a significant increase in private and
voluntary sector involvement, the relative proportions of services
provided through those sources will remain fairly small. Innovative
approaches are being pioneered in some areas, particularly where
(a) facilitate access to investment not otherwise
(b) improve management capacity and value
(c) improve productivity and efficiency
(d) take over or replace failing public sector
24. But the argument for greater choice
can extend further, where these features become intrinsically
desirable. Research shows that the services which attract the
most popular support are those which involve choice. Services
which offer choices (rather than having a captive audience) tend
also to offer better information to customers. This makes them
more popular because customers know what to expect, whether or
not they are receiving it, and what to do if it goes wrong.
25. The four principles have implications
for the management of public services. Some observers might say
that traditional bureaucracies place a high value on processes
and rules, seek to economise, to avoid risk and to assume "one
size fits all". In contrast, modern service organisations
tend to focus more on outcomes and innovation, on value for money,
they seek to manage risk and to find solutions that are fit for
purpose. There is recognition that public services are expected
to deliver better services in different ways in a different world.
And much is already being achieved. There is nevertheless a clear
sense of urgency; in some areas very rapid change is sought by
the Government. This suggests a need for further concerted action
by people involved in delivering public services, across central
and local government and front line services.
26. Part of the change is reflected in central
government through programmes to modernise the civil service.
Since 1999 the Civil Service Reform programme has been creating
some of the conditions for faster progress. It has enhanced understanding
of the need for reform, brought needed changes in the machinery
of government, and is developing a better trained, better informed
civil service that is more receptive to change. Modernising Government
incorporated the Civil Service Reform programme, led by Sir Richard
Wilson, and there is evidence that the civil service is changing.
It is becoming more customer focused and is providing better access
to services. The civil service has brought in new skills and experience,
and is developing its own people. It organised 4,000 interchanges
in the last year. It has more women in the Senior Civil Service
(SCS), up from 600 in April 1999 to 720 in April 2000, and ethnic
minority staff in the SCS have risen from 60 in April 1999 to
70 in April 2000. 97% of civil servants work in organisations
with Investors in People. These reforms provide a foundation for
the future changes which the Government, and the public, wish
27. Overall there remains much to do. The
task is urgent and its scale significantly exceeds what has been
achieved thus far. The focus on the customer and on the four principles
is not only a development of existing reform activities but reflects
learning about what matters and what works. The message to the
centre of government and departments is to focus on a clear set
of important standards and to devolve responsibility for delivering
them locally. This means a different way of doing things rather
than more of the same at a faster pace.
28. The relationships between public service
organsiations and Whitehall departments are crucial here. Seen
from the point of view of service delivery organisations, Parliament
and the media, government departments can sometimes appear complex
and uncoordinated. Concentration of effort can be lost through
too many policy initiatives. Government is therefore looking to
increase delegation, to support and give help to the "front
line", and to rationalise and channel more of its demands,
in order to ease the burden it places on delivery of public services.
29. Achieving change across the public services
relies on the people who deliver services understanding the case
for reform and being clear about their role in delivering it.
The focus on customers and on the four principles is a simple
message that can be applied as appropriate in different public
services. It places attention more closely onto the importance
of service standards and encourages providers to take greater
responsibility for making the standards more tangible for the
public and customers. Performance information and inspection are
mechanisms for informing government and the public whether these
standards are being delivered, and to what level.
30. It is for these reasons that OPSR and
the No.10 Strategic Communications Unit are working with departments
to articulate the reform agenda and to develop a clear
understanding across departments and public services about how
these principles can help to deliver tangible service improvements
appropriately. OPSR is holding a series of seminars with officials,
in conjunction with the Centre for Management and Policy Studies
(CMPS), to encourage debate and ensure clear action will be taken
to secure change. This could become evident through higher awareness
across the Senior Civil Service of the principles of public services
reform, evidence of, and reference to, the four principles in
the outputs of departments, and evidence of the use of research
to track and measure the effectiveness of delivery communications.
31. Successful delivery means achieving
policy objectives, but delivery will also be judged by the public
through their experience of the services they receive or the views
they acquire from the media, family, and friends. Improvements
in customer satisfaction will be the ultimate test of whether
reforms are working. There needs to be two way dialogue between
the public and policy deliverers in order for services to build
upon an accurate understanding of customers' views. In turn, the
public needs accurate information about the services that are
available and to which they are entitled.
32. OPSR is working with departments to
help them ensure they are customer focused and able to
assess customer satisfaction in a consistent and robust way. OPSR
is designing methods for collecting comparative customer information
that can be used to shape policy and inform performance improvement
in services across the country and with different client groups.
It will deliver a customer satisfaction toolkit to departments
by April 2002, for departments and agencies to use to produce
comparable customer satisfaction data to a local level later in
2002. This could give the Treasury public spending teams scope
to negotiate more customer satisfaction targets with departments
in their 2002 PSAs. Also, the Charter Mark scheme is being supported
by the Cabinet Office, to encourage improvements in the quality
of front line public services.
33. The Local Government White Paper
is expected to set out a clear vision for strong and effective
local government. OPSR has been working closely with DTLR to align
their draft proposals with the four reform principles across local
authorities. OPSR would seek to continue to work closely with
DTLR to enable this vision to be implemented across central and
34. The Office has also been charged with
examining specific local services, to advise the Prime
Minister on how best these can meet the Government's objectives.
Working with departments, and others responsible for public services,
OPSR will find out about progress in policy implementation and
provide advice on how it could be improved. The reforms being
undertaken represent an exciting departure in the way government
delivers public services. This builds on what has gone before,
but is taking it forward through an explicit framework and set
of principles. The Office will disseminate the good practice as
it is developed in locally delivered services.
35. The Office also has a role together
with Civil Service Corporate Management and Reform in strengthening
the capacity and competence of the civil service to deliver
public services reform. This builds on the achievements of the
Civil Service Reform programme and departments' own reform programmes.
OPSR is seeking to deliver three contributions to help enhance
capacity and create the culture of continual improvement that
underpins successful delivery.
36. First, Improving Programme and Project
Delivery (IPPD) is a project to tackle long-standing weaknesses
in delivery through inadequate project and programme management.
OPSR's drive to improve civil service capacity for delivering
projects and programmes forms part of a wider drive to raise departments'
performance in delivering their objectives, the work of the Prime
Minister's Delivery Unit and that of the Office of Government
Commerce, among others.
37. Working with other units at the centre
of government and with departments themselves, through IPPD OPSR
aims to achieve a better match between demand for and supply of
project and programme management skills across the civil service,
and streamlined monitoring and improved performance in the delivery
and scrutiny of projects and programmes, including ways of managing
risk. IPPD also aims to strengthen use by policy-makers of project/programme
management disciplines and techniques to improve delivery of policy
goals. The project is thus developing a common framework for the
application of programme and project management techniques across
government, alongside better skilled project managers and senior
38. Second, is a proposal for a change
management programme, which is intended to build upon existing
good practice. This departmental change programme offers ways
of enhancing departments' capacity for "high-performance".
It harnesses the benefits of an external view of their performance,
drawing in expertise from the public and private sectors. This
could help to inform management teams' own assessments and design
of their programmes for making the further progress that their
departments are seeking to deliver. The approach is tailored to
the particular circumstances, strengths and needs of individual
departments, helping to focus management attention on the structures
and processes that most need change, and on the areas where performance
can most effectively be improved.
39. The Office is preparing for this way
of working with departments alongside experts from others at the
centresuch as the e-Envoy, the Office of Government Commerce,
the Treasury, and Civil Service Corporate Management and Reform.
One aim is for the approach to offer an additional way for the
centre to provide support and work with departments, and help
to put into practice within central government itself the principles
of reform and customer focus on which the wider reform of the
public service is also founded. The programme is developing this
approach with a small number of departments in 2002, and will
extend to other departments in the future.
40. Third, there is a review of policy
on executive agencies, announced by Ian McCartney MP, Minister
of State at the Cabinet Office, on 7 March 2001, when he said:
". . . In consultation with the Chief Secretary to the Treasury,
we have decided that it is an opportune time to review the arrangements
for Executive Agencies to see what lessons can be drawn from current
models. The review will be sponsored jointly by the Cabinet Office
and the Treasury . . .". The review is led by Pam Alexander
and jointly chaired by the Treasury and the Cabinet Office. The
staff of the review team are now part of OPSR. The review is looking
at many issues including the relationship between departments
and ministers and agencies; the extent to which operational freedoms
have been devolved to agencies and the extent to which authority
has been devolved from the centre of agencies out to the front
line too. The review is also looking at how far the model has
encouraged innovation, risk taking and customer focus. The review
may have implications for the functions of executive non-departmental
public bodies as well. It is expected to report to Ministers by
41. Reform is a continuous process. There
are many lessons from previous and current reforms in the private
and public sectors. This will always be "work in progress",
in which many are already engaged. OPSR's particular remit is
to make a contribution through the development and implementation
of the principles of public service reform. OPSR does not have
executive responsibility for reforming public services. Rather,
it has the job of helping to strengthen and reinforce the competence
and capacity of public servants to deliver the Government's goals.
In terms of its overall approach to this remit, OPSR is seeking
to facilitate and support others in implementing reform in their
areas. The guiding objective is the achievement of sustainable
improvements which the public values. Specifically, OPSR is undertaking
clearly defined projects, each of which has explicit milestones
and measurable outcomes. The projects build on the four principles
of reform, and are being introduced in order to help ensure further
progress is made towards tangible reform in the public services.
Office of Public Services Reform