The House of Lords Select Committee on Public Services was established on 13 February 2020 to scrutinise issues that cut across different public services, to complement the Departmental focus of committee scrutiny in the House of Commons.
The Public Services Committee will focus its work on the transformation of public services, to ensure that they are meeting the needs of individuals and communities in the twenty-first century
The Committee will consider public services in the broadest possible sense—we will explore community-level initiatives and the role of the private, voluntary and charitable sectors in the delivery of public services.
Shortly after the establishment of the Committee, public services were presented with one of the gravest challenges of recent history—the outbreak of COVID-19. In our first inquiry, the Committee will examine what the experience of coronavirus can tell us about the future role, priorities and shape of public services. This short review of lessons for public services will inform later, broader work on public service reform.
The remit of the Public Services Committee will largely be limited to scrutiny of public service delivery in England. In Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, responsibility for public services generally rests with the devolved administrations. However, the Committee hopes to learn from public service best practice in the devolved jurisdictions, both to draw comparisons and apply lessons learnt.
The coronavirus crisis already represents the biggest shock to the UK’s economy and society since the Second World War. The loss of life and the disruption to communities across the country have been devasting, while the public health emergency and the resulting economic downturn have placed unprecedented pressures on our public services.
The months and years ahead—with demand for services likely to rise in the context of a significantly diminished economy—will present new challenges and difficult choices for services. The coronavirus outbreak requires a fundamental rethink of how public services respond to the needs of the communities that they serve.
The pandemic has already encouraged radical thinking in some areas of public policy. In recent weeks, we have seen the establishment of numerous community initiatives to support people during lockdown. These schemes have involved collaboration among community groups; the voluntary sector; the private sector; NHS and social care providers; the police; and local authorities and other services, to ensure that the needs of local communities are met.
However, although the pandemic has demonstrated what is possible, questions remain about whether more could have been done to prevent harm, whether the transformation seen in some service areas will remain once the crisis is over, and whether best practice will be shared with services that struggled during lockdown.
This inquiry will focus on four key areas: the integration of services; inequalities in access and outcome; the relationship between local and national services; and the role of business and the third sector—charities, volunteers and community groups—during coronavirus.
The questions set out below are intended to provide a framework for those who wish to offer their views. You need not answer all the questions, just those that are relevant.
The Committee is seeking input on the following questions:
1.What have been the main areas of public service success and failure during the COVID-19 outbreak?
2.How have public attitudes to public services changed as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak?
3.Did resource problems or capacity issues limit the ability of public services to respond to the crisis? Are there lessons to be learnt from the pandemic on how resources can be better allocated and public service resilience improved?
4.Did workforce pressures preceding the crisis, such as difficulties in the recruitment or retention of workers, limit the ability of public services to meet people’s needs during the lockdown? How effectively, if at all, have these issues been addressed during the COVID-19 outbreak? Do public services require a new approach to staff wellbeing?
5.Why have some public services been able to achieve goals within a much shorter timeframe than typically would have been expected before the COVID-19 outbreak—for example, the increase in NHS capacity? What lessons can be learnt?
6.Has the delivery of public services changed as a result of coronavirus? For example, have any services adopted new methods of meeting people’s needs in response to the outbreak? What lessons can be learnt from innovation during coronavirus?
7.How effectively have different public services shared data during the outbreak?
8.Did public services have the digital skills and technology necessary to respond to the crisis? Can you provide examples of services that were able to innovate with digital technology during lockdown? How can these changes be integrated in the future?
9.Have public services been effective in identifying and meeting the needs of vulnerable groups during the COVID-19 outbreak? For example, were services able to identify vulnerable children during lockdown to ensure that they were attending school or receiving support from statutory services? How have adults with complex needs been supported?
10.Were groups with protected characteristics (for example BAME groups and the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller community), or people living in areas of deprivation, less able to access the services that they needed during lockdown? Have inequalities worsened as a result of the lockdown? If so, what new pressures will this place on public services?
11.Are there lessons to be learnt for reducing inequalities from the new approaches adopted by services during the COVID-19 outbreak?
12.A criticism often levelled at service delivery is that public services operate in silos—collaboration is said to be disincentivised by narrow targets from central Government departments, distinct funding and commissioning systems, and service-specific regulatory intervention. Would you agree, and if so, did such a framework limit the ability of public services to respond to people’s needs during the COVID-19 outbreak?
13.Were some local areas, where services were well integrated before the crisis, better able to respond to the outbreak than areas where integration was less developed? Can you provide examples?
14.Are there any examples of services collaborating in new and effective ways as a result of COVID-19? Are there lessons to be learnt for central Government and national regulators in supporting the integration of services?
15.What does the experience of public services during the outbreak tell us about services’ ability to collaborate to provide “person-centred care”?
16.How well did central and local government, and national and local services, work together to coordinate public services during the outbreak? For example, how effectively have national and local agencies shared data?
17.How effectively were public services coordinated across the borders of the devolved administrations? Did people living close to the border experience difficulties in accessing services?
18.Can you provide any examples of how public services worked effectively with a local community to meet the unique needs of the people in the area (i.e. taking a “place-based approach” to delivering services) during the COVID-19 outbreak?
19.Would local communities benefit from public services focusing on prevention, as opposed to prioritising harm mitigation? Were some local areas able to reduce harm during coronavirus by having prevention-focused public health strategies in place, for example on obesity, substance abuse or mental health?
20.What lessons might be learnt about the role of charities, volunteers and the community sector from the crisis? Can you provide examples of public services collaborating in new ways with the voluntary sector during lockdown? How could the sectors be better integrated into local systems going forward?
21.How effectively has the Government worked with the private sector to ensure services have continued to operate during the COVID-19 outbreak?