public services

Public services for people over profit

This piece originally appeared in the Guardian.

From test and trace to care homes, it’s time to bring public services back in house and award contracts to social enterprises.

England’s “world-beating” test-and-trace service has failed to materialise. Riddled with problems since its inception, it has been described as barely functional, with demand up to four times that of capacity and 90% of tests failing to hit the 24-hour turnaround target.

We need a generous state forever

For years we have been told that expansive government intervention is not a feasible or desirable solution to our major social, economic and environmental ills.

Yet, the unprecedented government intervention of the last three weeks has turned decades of orthodoxy on its head. The state, maligned for years by successive governments, is back. In this, it has re-assumed its fundamental purpose: to insure us against a life that is, as in Hobbes’ Leviathan, “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

We are nothing if we are not together

This article originally appeared in the Local Government Chronicle

The Covid-19 pandemic has destabilised our present and will profoundly affect our social, economic and political future. Whilst we do not know how events will progress, we can be sure that things will never be the same again. There will be no going back.

The immediate government response must be to tackle the public health crisis, shore up businesses and the economy and help people with their personal and family finances. However, other recent crises – the financial crisis of 2008, the ongoing climate emergency – have made clear that we are ill-equipped to deal with systemic shocks. Longstanding flaws and cracks, which have been papered over for years, have now been blown apart by this virus. Our society – despite having made stunning technical advances and delivered unprecedented concentrations of wealth – has been overstretched for many years.

  • Amanda Stevens

    Senior Researcher

  • An end to austerity? Not for local government.

    This article originally appeared in the Local Government Chronicle

    The budget has found the money tree, but not for local economies, local public services or the climate.

    We need to look at where the money goes and who has power over it. Big finance, large infrastructure companies and the existing wealth winners all win again. Just and green local economies for all remain as distant as ever.

    Wider economic austerity has been abandoned – but let’s be clear, local government public service austerity remains, and so do the systemic economic issues bedevilling great swathes of this land.

    Health institutions as “anchors”: unlocking the potential within the NHS

    This article originally appeared in the Health Service Journal.

    The NHS is not just a service that provides healthcare free at the point of need. It is a social contract with the British people to deliver well-being.

    Across its wide range of services, the NHS’s mission extends beyond making us better when we are ill, it is also about making sure we do not fall ill in the first place – playing a key part in addressing the wider social, economic and environmental determinants of health.

    An economy for all: the role of community power

    Tom Lloyd Goodwin discusses the “community paradigm” and how we are seeking to challenge the ideas that underpin it in our new publication: An economy for all: the role of community power.

    Inclusive economies are about growing community and democratic ownership forms within the private sector economy.
    Recently, however, there has been a resurgence of ideas that see a greater role for the community in commissioning and delivering public services.  The central claim is that the state and the market are both discredited and are unable to tackle injustices and stem rising public service demand. As such, it is proposed that communities are best placed to “take control”, leading to the emergence of a new “community paradigm”. Echoing ideas reminiscent of David Cameron’s “big society”, this has been posited as a solution to the conjoined issues of less public money and growing social need.
    “The ideas posited by the community paradigm have dangerous flaws.”
    While it is true that we must genuinely empower citizens and communities and that they must have a decent say in how our public services are run, the ideas posited by the community paradigm have dangerous flaws.

    Let’s democratise the insourcing revolution!

    CLES welcomes the publication of the Labour Party’s report, Democratising Local Public Services. Its bold plan for a 21st century insourcing offers a powerful corrective to the last four decades of outsourcing, commercialisation and, more recently, unprecedented austerity. It appeals to all who have been working to combat the hollowing out, privatisation and undermining of our public services.

    However, there are some changes in emphasis and direction required. CLES agrees that insourcing of local public services should be the default position, and that far too much outsourcing is delivered by those who seek profit and extract wealth at the expense of the public service. Nevertheless, we should be building a resurgence of a public service movement and offer a hand to the many organisations and individuals who, whilst not directly part of local government, are equally passionate about public values, public services and are at the forefront of a movement to develop new forms of democratic and citizen involvement. Democratic institutions such as cooperatives, and participatory democratic forms such as community businesses and social enterprises, offer different ways of realising social, economic and environmental value. These organisations are far removed from the rapacious greed of large outsourcers and as such should have some role in the democratisation, delivery and part ownership of service production.
    “We should be building a resurgence of a public service movement and offer a hand to the many organisations and individuals who, whilst not directly part of local government, are equally passionate about public values, public services and are at the forefront of a movement to develop new forms of democratic and citizen involvement.”
    So, whilst Labour’s paper provides an excellent correction to years of marketisation and privatisation, a deepening democratic and social revolution for our public services cannot solely begin and end at the town hall. Clearly, back door outsourcing – where small alternative forms of delivery are eventually acquired and gobbled up by big private outsourcers – must be guarded against. However, the democratisation of our local public services must make provision to include, where appropriate, other socially just forms of delivery. Consequently, the debate here is not solely public sector insourcing versus private sector outsourcing.

  • Social Value is not enough – It’s time to restore Public Values

    Last week the government launched a series of new initiatives around ‘Social Value’, a much vaunted policy agenda which started with the passage of the Social Value Act in 2012. Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington has announced that by summer 2019, government procurements will be required to take social and economic benefits into account in certain priority areas, as well as new transparency rules for those bidding for public contracts.

    The government’s attempt to get businesses to consider their social impact can be understood as an acknowledgement that something has gone awry in the state of commissioning public services. The dramatic collapse of outsourcing giant Carillion in January 2018 has prompted a new wave of governmental thinking about how goods and services are purchased. With public opinion increasingly moving against poor provision of public services (most noticeably the much criticised railway system), this extension of the Social Value Act represents the government’s response.

  • We need to ease back on council cuts

    The cuts imposed on councils are too steep, happening too fast and unfairly distributed. There needs to be real-terms growth in the resources given to local government and distribution according to social need.

  • RESEARCH

    Austerity Uncovered

    16th January 2015
    This report is based on research by the Centre for Local Economic Strategies (CLES), commissioned by the TUC. It is designed to lo...