Closing the Jaws of Doom: co-operative approaches to public service delivery
The “Jaws of Doom” describes the shape you see if you plot a graph showing increasing demand for public services (driven by an ageing population) and reducing public sector resources to meet that need. It’s this tension that is driving severe cuts in some areas and market commercialisation in other parts of the UK.
That was the background to today’s “Reshaping Services with the Public” conference held by the Wales Audit Office in collaboration with partners including the Wales Co-operative Centre. The conference was about changing the relationship between those who deliver and people who use services.
The premise is that too many public services are still delivered from the perspective of single service deliverers. The leads to citizens experiencing multiple, fragmented approaches that can result in contradictory and conflicting interventions, poor outcomes for the service user, waste of valuable resources and poor value for money.
Keynote speaker Professor Tony Bovaird from Birmingham University argued for a radical change in the way we co-commission, co-design, co-deliver and co-assess public services. We need to centre services on the user, gain their consent and harness their time and the time of others in the community to complement resources paid for from public money.
This sounds a lot like a co-operative model to us. The Wales Co-operative Centre supports co-operatives and social businesses, and that includes assisting local councils who are considering externalising services to new social businesses. We help ensure that the perspectives of service users and staff are hard-wired into the governance structures of new enterprises. We support business plans that stack up financially but are driven by the needs of service users and by broader social good. This is in sharp contrast to privatisation approaches, where service users can be objectified, and ineffective delivery models can be contractually perpetuated.
And at the Wales Co-operative Centre we try to practice what we preach. We deliver the Wales Government’s Communities 2.0 digital inclusion programme, and the volunteering model used is a lovely model of co-delivery. The people the programme helps can themselves become volunteers and influence what the programme delivers. Not only does this mean value for money but it ensures that the programme stays fresh and relevant to the needs of people who are digitally excluded.
Today’s conference marks the beginning of a long journey for public services in Wales. If we keep with us co-operative values and explore co-operative models of service delivery, we would be well on our way.