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Responsible Reform: The findings

The UK’s great equalities inheritance needs to be reframed in the context of a smaller state, says Warren Escadale, as he reveals the findings of Responsible Reform: Open Public Services for All

Picking up on the implications of the findings of Open for All, and wanting to find an answer that could move us forward, Voluntary Services North West, CLES and our North West Infrastructure Partners have launched Responsible Reform: Open Public Services for All.  The premise, based on the current political and economic reality (‘austerity is the new normal’) and on the findings of Open for All? is this:

‘The Big State failed to create resilient communities, the Small State is destroying what remains.’

The key context, as we see it, are the government’s five principles of open public service reform as outlined last year in their white paper and the implications of the modernising commissioning green paper. The government is now expected to publish further details on this work in the spring.

Our proposals for central government focus on the following:
1.    That the government develop a vision of community empowerment that reflects different communities (not just geographic communities) and is linked to each of the five principles:

  • Choice should be linked to handing over control to more than the few and having a vibrant, need-aligned set of choices available
  • Decentralisation should be about empowering communities of interest and identity as well as communities of place
  • Diversity of provider (that combines a sense of localism, “big society” and local empowerment) should include local specialist niche provision. We see an important role for these groups in ensuring public money can be used to kick start community economies and avoid public funding being taken out of localities.
  • Fairness should be linked to an understanding of local need
  • Better accountability should be built into include outsourced public service provision.

2.    That the government develop and implement a strategy to build and modernise the capacity of equalities communities to deliver public services. Key to this will be assessing local needs (it must be needs driven) and promoting new models of commissioning that can properly and cost effectively engage such a market of specialist niche provision.
3.    That the government encourage local public agencies to work together and build in ‘Joint Equalities Needs Assessments’ into commissioning cycles and processes with the aim of making critical interventions that address inequality and promote social mobility.

Essential to this new world of commissioning will be local public sector agencies and local commissioning practice. There are some exciting possibilities that stem from thinking about open public service principles in this new light:

  • the possibility of developing local procurement frameworks (not necessarily local supplier frameworks)
  • the extension of the local Joint Strategic Needs Analysis process (with its focus on health inequality).
  • the possibility of developing local inequality interventions (possibly piloted through a new type of Community Budget or written into the operational planning process of whole-place Community Budgets).

These opportunities offer hope that we can reframe Britain’s great equalities inheritance into a newer, more strategic, smaller state with a future-proofed instinct for social justice.

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