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Decisions on public services across health, leisure, transport and the local environment should be handed down to individuals and communities according to a new report from the think tank New Local Government Network (NLGN).
In this report NLGN argues that the traditional centralised provision of services often disregards the specific needs of individuals, leads to massive wastage and fails to meet the rising expectations of citizens. Instead, the next stage of public service reform should see citizens making their own choices – with greater individual control of resources – and communities empowered to generate their own revenue and invest in services that meet the needs of their local neighbourhoods.
But, it concludes, current efforts to drive this agenda from the centre looks set to fail. Centralised investment, decision-making and performance management has made few inroads. ‘Personalising’ a service requires in-depth knowledge of consumer demand, of how markets can best provide for this demand, and how to involve citizens in designing and even running these services. It is only elected local government that is best placed to intervene and tailor responses to individuals who are out of work, homeless or in receipt of care.
The research identifies 26 practical ways in which individuals and communities can be given greater control and influence over the services they receive. It calls for new freedoms to allow funding to follow individuals and wrap around their needs and for Whitehall to step back and let citizens evaluate how services should be improved.
The report concludes by setting out new reforms to bring personalisation about:
- councils should provide leisure and recreation vouchers and allow young people to choose how to spend these on sports services (such as leisure centres or renting football pitches) or recreation (such as hiring a recording studio);
- there are increasing moves to provide convenient access to information and ticket sales across the national rail network, but this concept should be developed to bring about a National Oyster Card that would allow easy access for commuters and travellers across localities, regions and the country;
- current contractual arrangements in dental health mean that millions are going without treatment with the most significant reason remains lack of NHS dentist capacity. As a driver for wider choice, access must be opened up and the Government should, as part of its ongoing review, consider obliging those dentists who receive NHS training to conduct a minimum proportion of their work under NHS terms;
- lessons should be learned from market leaders such as the Tesco Clubcard and Amazon, with councils providing residents with local swipe cards to access services that can be credited with rewards and topped-up, and in turn provide evidence for shaping services based on customer usage and preferences;
- under a system of electronic patient records, the days should be over when commuters are forced to take a day off work to visit their GP
- individuals should be allowed access any GP, whether near their workplace, friends or family – to provide convenience and prevent wasted time;
- revenue from parking charges, environmental fines and infrastructure charges from utility companies should be devolved to the street level, where this money could be invested to make roads safer, hire a community hall or enhance the local environment.
‘For too long, we have been in a situation where public services have been designed around the institutions that deliver them rather than having citizens foremost in their minds. Whether it is a question of paying a bill or receiving care at home, citizens now rightly expect their public services to fit around their daily lives, in terms of convenience, time and point of access, choice of providers and speed of delivery.
‘But, it makes little sense to try and drive through these reforms from Whitehall. Services can only be responsive when they factor in local circumstances and the particular needs of individual citizens. So, devolution to the local level must be a prerequisite as we push this agenda forward.
‘While there is a risk that in the current economic climate we may shy away from these new challenges, if designed on the right lines, there are significant savings to be found. Personalisation and public sector efficiency should move hand in hand.”