Progressive Conservatism - 7 ideas for future reform in public services

What might the Conservatives really mean by the ‘re-professionalisation’ of public services in a ‘post-bureaucratic age’ and how might this actually be applied in the future? Starting from the premise that about half the public are unhappy with public service delivery despite recent reform and investment in public services, this presentation by Phillip Blond, Director of the Progressive Conservatism Project at Demos sets out seven ways in which he believes that innovative Conservative thinking can tackle longstanding problems in public services. Reducing bureaucracy, targets and top-down control in public services is not new rhetoric from the Conservatives but some of Phillip Blond’s suggestions for the reform of public services in the future would involve major changes to the structure, values and operation of public services. However, as Blond is outside the Conservative party, these ideas might never make it into policy proposals but they raise some interesting issues about the future nonetheless.

The main idea behind Blond’s proposals is that a lack of trust of those working in the public sector has resulted in too much control, auditing and reform, and the more we attempt to manage performance, the worse it becomes. He argues that unless we can trust the public servants who have chosen this vocation to inculcate the core values and creative intellect that they possess in their work, we will never achieve productive and successful public services. His overarching principles are about generating a new level of ownership right at the frontline which would break down the traditional values of who innovates, manages, controls and owns. He argues that public services will only be genuinely ‘post-bureaucratic’ if they are not based on external rules and codes but internal rules that the whole workforce has agreed on.

His seven principles for how to achieve such reform are below:

  1. Integrate public sector workers and their vocation with the targets themselves. Overcome traditional divisions between capital and labour, manager and managed, innovator and functionary.
  2. Create an ownership culture within public services. The centre should dictate what outcomes it wants but be indifferent as to how they are fulfilled and only become involved in the case of failure.
  3. Radical decentralisation of all decision making and control. So that decisions are taken at the point where the work occurs, not at the top of the hierarchy.
  4. Combine freedom with accountability. Give the frontline of services greater freedom and power so they’re accountable for both in terms of rewards or sanctions.
  5. Introduce very radical ideas about workplace democracy. Allow employees to make decisions about things that affect them at work and how to achieve these, e.g allow workers to elect their own bosses, as well who should govern their team and make people re-apply for their own jobs every year.
  6. These will all work by making performance targets and sanctions horizontal, rather than vertical. This would involve introducing notions of peer-to-peer sanctioning and letting people create their own culture and inculcate it within a team to ensure workplace delivery.
  7. Public services are not there just to generate activity, but because they are inherently purposeful. So in that sense they have to remain open-ended to the people to whom they serve, not to the bureaucracy that generates them.

If you would like to find out ten ways in which these principles could be actualised, listen to the next presentation from Jamie Bartlett from Demos at the same event.


Last updated at 10:09 Wed 15/Jul/09.
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