Tuesday 5 July 2011

The Select Committee on Public Administration

Up early to check through what I might say in front of the Commons Select Committee hearing on the Big Society. But was distracted by listening to the marvellous Reith Lecture by Daw Suu and then hearing her speak from her house in University Ave, Rangoon.

Daw Suu is a remarkable woman. An example of leadership that is truly inspiring. Burma suffers under one of the moist brutal military regimes in the world and yet its people, who I have got to know partly over the years I have been visiting and working with the Church there are stoic and remain hopeful.

One day the regime will fall. We must hope that Daw Suu will be there to guide her people as their rightfully elected Leader.

I arrived at a rather hot and sweaty committee room corridor in the Commons for the hearing. I was appearing with Kevin Curley and the TUC just to give it spice. Needless to say my views were somewhat divergent from the TUC which has an unhealthy " public sector good", the rest bad attitude and spent time trotting out the usual stuff on wicked capitalists out to screw the system and deliver bad services at enormous profits. Quite why this means we should not have more delivery though the third sector was not elucidated.

I argued, as you would expect, for radical reform of public service that puts power in the hands of citizens and communities. I was able to refer to my recent work in the health service and my Report on choice and Competition which shows how competition needs to be part of the tool kit for delivering more choice. A diversity of providers is what people want and there were some dodgy surveys quoted to try and demonstrate people don't want choice.

A helpful question from Charlie Elphicke MP, who turns out to be excellent and clearly heading for greater things ( you read it here first ! ) .

So Competition has a role to play. And if we are true to our beliefs as a sector we must think it is right that if a private sector provider can deliver a better service to our beneficiaries that must be good. Our aim has to be what is the best service , rather than arguing about whether it is provided by the public sector or not.

I made clear that we expect the government to be bold in their open public services White Paper expected in a few weeks. Opening up services to delivery through more third sector bodies. I'm hoping the PM will face down those critics who want him to go " softly , softly" on reform. It's essential we drive forward change and not back track in the face of the producer vested interest.

There was an interesting interlude when Robert Halford MP showed his great interest in what ACEVO does, what I am paid and what the social investment business does. Obviously I was delighted to be able to talk about both organisations and our stirling work, though quite why this was related to Big society was less clear.

Interesting too to see my dear friend Quentin Letts in the audience listening intently to my words of wisdom. He has written warmly about me recently on no less that 2 occasions. A particularly charming piece on my chubbiness ( he called me "bubblet "; shock horror ) so I wonder what will now emerge. I do hope he was taken with my splendid summer suit by a well known Italian designer that I picked up in the Harvey Nicks sale- and as always a splendid tie which outshone any of those around the necks of the gathered MPs.

And the Committee seemed fascinated by my Blog which made it in numerous mentions. I suspect that was because I had to take them to task from a previous hearing where some naughtiness was aired about the role of charities in delivering services and speaking out, as well as shocking and wrong attacks on big charities.

I was even asked to start off on that very topic. There was quite a lot of discussion on campaigning. In my view charities that don't campaign and advocate for their beneficiaries are failing. We don't deliver public services because there is a managerial case for it, but because we believe passionately we do it better for our people. And we take governments to task when they get it wrong and we work with them when they get it right.


Matt Dykes said...

As a TUC officer present at the select committee this morning, I think I should clarify our position for your sake and that of your readers.

We are not opposed to third sector organisations delivering services in partnership with the public sector.

We too support reform that places public services in the hands of citizens and communities (and the workers who provide them).

We fail to see how handing over currently accountable and integrated public services to a market in which private sector enterprises will dominate helps to do this.

The Work Programme shows what happens. If your vision of the Big Society is for ACEVO members to become delivery sub-contractors for A4E and SERCO then fair enough. Afterall that is the reality of the government's market-orientated reforms. You should be clear about this.

Does this deliver value and better services? The Financial Times was pretty clear that there is no evidence for this. The public don't buy it either. You may think that PWC, IPPR and YouGov are 'dubious' but that was the evidence from their research.

We support a model of public service reform based on intelligent commissioning, informed by genuine dialogue and negotiation between providers, workers, service users and communities. We support empowering employees, through increasing their stake in the organisation and their participation in the decision making process.

We don't see why marketisation and outsourcing is the only way to achieve this. Or why this is the only option on the Big Society table.

Matt Dykes

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