Select Committee on Public Administration Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by Serviceteam Ltd (PSR 28)


  6.  Yes. Service receivers have a sophisticated understanding of the customer/supplier relationship. The old style of public service was about uniformity, conformity and welfarism. Current plans start with changing what exists incrementally—an approach that will always resist innovation and fail to make the step change necessary to achieve genuinely customer driven, effective services. The challenge is to develop local authorities to focus on quality of life improvement FREE of the responsibility of service provision, which compromises their decision making and blunts the desire to achieve social justice. People want improved service outcomes/delivery and they don't mind who delivers them or how they get them.

  7.  A public service ethos does exist. It is the idea that the quality of service delivery should be independent of the private motives or prejudices of the individuals or organisation delivering the service. It is about social justice, social equity, community responsibility and democratic accountability. Local authorities have no more "ownership" of a public service ethos than does anyone else, public, private or voluntary.

  8.  This question can only be answered with reference to the word "sector". The issue being examined is a public service ethos, not a public sector ethos, which clearly are distinct. The idea of a public service ethos is not confined to the public sector. Good and bad examples of service delivery by individuals, companies or organisations can be found in every sector of public service provision. We should focus on what works on the basis of open and fair competition, regardless of provider. The public service ethos cannot, therefore, be compared to the idea of a private sector or a voluntary sector ethos.

  A public sector ethos could be defined as better terms and conditions, worse sickness records etc than other sectors. Arguments about top-flight salaries are a smoke screen for the fact that public servants have generous employment packages with greater job security. Generally, the private sector achieves much greater productivity within a more cost-effective and accountable financial regime.

  9.  The idea of a public service ethos can be counter-productive when appropriated within a monopolistic setting, whether that is a private or public monopoly, as the "ethos" can be distorted to become an ideologically-motivated device referring to ownership of service rather than an attitude towards delivering a public good.

  10.  The idea of a single public service is both immensely impractical and very undesirable. In practice, the creation of a "super service" would lead to an unwieldy monopoly, impenetrable, self-protective and less dynamic than smaller, more transparent organisations. It would exhibit the worst characteristics of the old nationalised monopolies: inertia in communications, decision-making and implementation, disdain for rights of the end-user and financial unaccountability—the very qualities that led to a consensus that reform was necessary in the 1970s and 1980s. In fact, it is hard to see how such a single entity could be created to deliver the range of services that might be included under the rubric of public service, as this could include rail services, policing, health, education, municipal services and even defence. Serviceteam does not support any consideration of this proposal as we believe in the importance of innovation, flexibility and difference.

  11.  Profit-driven organisations can exhibit a public service ethos. Indeed, Serviceteam takes pride in delivering municipal services and we would consider ourselves to exhibit a public service ethos. We have to be very specific about what can be delivered and at what cost, and we come under intense scrutiny in meeting the standards set in contracts. Overbidding, underbidding and failure to deliver are all too easily exposed, particularly under the Best Value inspection regime, so it is in our interests to be honest, open and reliable in our dealings with local authorities and workforces. The ethos is enshrined in our adherence to performance standards and to our contractual obligations.

  The scrutiny applied to private contractors would disqualify many local authorities from providing the same services. However, legitimising their actions on the basis of democratic accountability, local authorities defend their right to waste public money through the inefficient and ineffective management of public services.

  12.  Open book accounting with a pre-agreed profit margin and value sharing over and above this level. Partnerships to deliver Public Service Agreements are also a good way to construct frameworks within which private contractors and local authorities can agree on flexibility within contracts, which would allay some of the scepticism the public sector has about the private sector's ability to go beyond service specifications.

  13.  Yes.

  14.  No. It is their business to define it as business process and culture regardless of the delivery mechanism. Most of these advisors are ex-public sector workers. No special measures are required.

  15.  It clearly improves our ability to work with the public sector, because the social and ethical context of our work becomes increasingly explicit. Private sector partners become more suitable to public service partnerships if they are prepared to provide tangible benefits in relation to these corporate governance matters. Recent examples are not good, although the CBI and others are championing the idea that good ethics are good business.

  16.  There is no reason why workers in the public or private sectors, given satisfactory pay and conditions, cannot deliver first class public services. However, public sector workers too often focus on their rights rather than responsibilities. Private sector staff are just as loyal and committed to public service. Motivation and cultural management of staff groups are key. Competition should focus on the organisation that will maximise the socially beneficial outcomes through the effective and positive management of these staff groups. Yes, motivation impacts directly on service quality.

  17.  Public attitudes change according to a variety of influences, particularly direct experience of service delivery and media coverage of public services. Serviceteam believes that the public would be happy with any provider that delivers consistently, that brings service improvement and good quality of life outcomes. That is why constant improvement in Best Value is a positive approach towards service delivery—again, regardless of provider.

  18.  The key to this question is how different types of organisations are accountable to the public and to service partners. The obvious measure that cuts across sectors is service delivery standards, and Serviceteam does not feel that the voluntary sector should be any less regulated within the Best Value inspection regime. The rules should apply to all public service providers alike. If the rules currently applied to private sector organisations were applied to local authorities, the private sector would make significant inroads into this market.

December 2001

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