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Can public services be trusted?

There is a long-standing lack of public confidence in government’s ability to successfully reform public services. Part of the challenge is that the issues that government and providers are dealing with are complex. Furthermore, a number of high profile failings by government and businesses in the past has shaken the public’s trust in the ability of both parties to effectively deliver public services.

What do we mean by public services? When the CBI say public services we are referring to all services that are provided by government to the public, either directly, or by financing the provision of services from businesses, charities and voluntary sector organisations through the use of markets. This includes services such as education, health and social care and childcare. Services such as these are the backbone of a strong economy, providing a safety net for those in society who most need assistance, as well as helping all of us continue to live safe, healthy and productive lives.

Today, these services are under threat from a number of challenges. Demographic change and advances in healthcare mean that people are able to live longer, healthier lives, which should be celebrated. 1 in 3 children born in 2013 in the UK will live to be 100 years old! Demand for old age services will increase by 70%, and many will need more support to live with long-term conditions or reduced mobility.

But with an economy just coming out of a recession, and a goal of reducing the deficit, the government has a limited amount of money to direct at public services.This means that public services need to change, being able to do more with less, so that they are able to tackle these challenges adequately and sustainably.

Public service markets are different to other markets such as banking and energy, but like any market, the people who use must be able to trust it. With public services, where market failure or success can change people’s lives for better or for worse, this is crucial.

The CBI has made the point that as taxpayers and as users of these services, the public must be confident in the ability of both government and businesses, as providers of public services, to deliver high quality services that meet the needs of a modern UK society. For example, 69% of people think their local councils need to give them more information about the services they run. Furthermore, two thirds of the public agree that if different parts of the public sector work better together and share their data, their services would be more efficient.

To be confident in our public services, people need to know that the government is aware of how all our lives and lifestyles are changing – for example, being able to access more services online. Data shows that:

  • 80% of people interact with businesses online but only 40% interact with government services online
  • On the whole there is support for more services online, with more than half people agreeing that a choice of using services online is a good thing
  • But this has not translated into reality — 75% of council leaders believe their council is confidently embracing the opportunities new technology offers to deliver better local public services, but only 29% of the public agreed

Business can play a strong role in helping government meet these challenges and bring public services into the 21st century. In fact, through open and transparent competition, the business contribution to public services can be hugely positive.

Not only are businesses able to provide finance and resource that government desperately needs, but they can bring new skills and much needed innovation.

“Public services are paid for by the taxpayer so people have the right to know how money is spent, to ensure their needs and expectations are met.“

And to be more open with the public, through the CBI, business is committed to share the vast majority of information about government contracts and how much profit they make, with the community. Public services are paid for by the taxpayer so the CBI has made the point that people have the right to know how money is spent, to ensure their needs and expectations are met.

The public debate is not a well-informed one, and there isn’t a genuine means of comparison between different services and providers. This needs to change. The CBI’s latest report, Our Future Public Services identifies the big challenges that must be addressed in order for public services to enable a flourishing society. At the heart of this is the need for a national conversation about what services should be prioritised, what is affordable, and how services are best delivered. Visit the CBI Public Services Network blog for more public services debate.

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