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20 July 2011

Open Public Services

Open Public Services

Earlier in July the government published landmark proposals to reform the way that public services are delivered. The Open Public Services white paper sets out how the government plan to let many more people and groups play a role in delivering services.  

It is one of the driving principles behind the coalition's focus to reduce the role of the central state. The plan is to have charities, businesses, and groups of employees take a much greater role in providing services to the public. In some places this is already in action. Many charities and Christian groups help run academies, and with the introduction of free schools from this autumn the potential will only grow.  

The current proposals take it several steps further, by considering how choice can be broadened for individuals, the local community and in the commissioning of large-scale services. On the individual level the government want funding to follow people's choices, rather than the other way round. In the realm of social care this would mean greater freedom to decide where and how you received care. As well as choice, the other key parts of the plan include decentralisation, diversity, fairness and accountability.  

Many of the plans for neighbourhood services are dealt with in the Localism Bill which is currently being considered by parliament. This will let town, parish and community councils have a greater say in decisions that affect their community, in particular to develop neighbourhood plans that will then govern planning decisions that the local authority makes. The white paper proposes giving these local bodies greater control over local services, such as parks and libraries. The government are also looking into plans to give local communities some control over how money is spent in their neighbourhood. 

Some services have traditionally been provided by the state. The government are now proposing that the state is no longer automatically the provider of services but the default option is that they commission them from a range of providers. This will apply to both local and national services, and the government are now consulting on how to ensure that standards are maintained across the country even when there is a wide range of providers. To try and incentivise innovation in public service provision there will be an annual prize where the prime minister and deputy prime minister recognise public sector bodies that demonstrate the most innovative ways to deliver better, more responsive services, at a lower cost.

The government have ambitious plans to involve businesses, and voluntary and community sector organisations. As well as in the provision of education the new work programme will also use private and charitable organisations to help unemployed people back into work. A key feature of this is payment by results, so the longer someone stays in work the more the contractor gets. As well as developing commissioning in drug and alcohol treatment, offender rehabilitation and children centres, there are also further subjects where similar approaches are used including payment processing and debt management. 

Churches and Christian charities are already actively engaged in delivering services, the government's new anti-trafficking strategy highlighted the role of the Salvation Army who won the contract for helping victims of trafficking. The new proposals offer the chance for churches to do even more. Some of the large scale opportunities may seem out of reach, however greater involvement in local budgets and the provision of services in a small area are chances for the Church to contribute to the welfare of their community that shouldn't be passed up.