Let’s not be Blockheads!
The Government’s consultation on Open Public Services ended last month. In our response we noted the commitment in the White Paper to ‘consult on the potential ways to establish zero tolerance of failure on a service-by-service basis.’ [1]
We pointed out that advice services deal with preventable systemic failure in public services on a daily basis [2].(We expanded on this point in Waste Studies – an earlier blog.) Community advice services may not have the desire, capacity or constitution to take over the running of public services, but if they are more intrinsically involved in design and delivery they can help to produce significant cost savings and service improvements.
This potential will not be realised simply by opening up public service contracts to competitive tenders. Without a real method for continual, systemic improvement we could simply see public services run by different bodies but continuing to fail and waste resources.
What we have learned is that service improvement is based on a thorough, end to end knowledge of the system, an understanding of purpose and collaboration between the public service provider and local agencies. Acting on preventable failure and working together to intervene earlier produces better services and outcomes for people and saves us all money.
We were present at an advice providers’ forum last week where the local Housing Benefit (HB) service and Job Centre Plus (JCP) both came to update advice agencies on their services. Big back-logs in processing HB claims were reported, with enquiries from claimants and their advisers about what is happening with claims contributing to further delays. Advisers reported poor and rude treatment of people by JCP staff and problems with lost documents. The Job Centre Plus representative stated that ‘we won’t have these problems when it’s all done on line’. Yeah, right. See Professor John Seddon’s article Universal Credit: a brilliant idea guaranteed to fail for more on this.
Sadly, there wasn’t time to explore these failings in any detail at the meeting. Three months or more could pass before advisers and local public service providers meet again. Meanwhile, the Welfare Reform Bill passes through parliament, bringing Universal Credit, Personal Independence Payments, Housing Benefit and other welfare changes closer. AdviceUK is working with others in the field such as Lasa and Oxfam to monitor the impact on people of welfare changes. They will bring new demand for independent advice and unless learning is built into the new system, more failure. As Ian Dury and the Blockheads sang, what a waste!
We have been struck by two blogs by AdviceUK member Community Links during the past week on a similar theme. In The Duty to Collaborate, David Robinson suggested
….it’s time to stop offering pilots and pathfinders. What if the offer was replaced with a duty – the Duty to Collaborate? What might that look like? And what if it was accompanied by a right for others – the right of any other local service provider to lead such a collaboration and require the cooperation of the local authority if the council fails to step up?’
David went on to ‘re-imagine prevention’ in a subsequent blog:
‘Early action is the shorthand I have used for the enabling services and the prompt interventions at, or close to, the top of the cliff. These are about being the best that we can be. Late action kicks in once the problem has tipped over, essential but, in every sense, a last resort.’
David is right on both counts, in our experience. Advice services typically intervene at crisis point with an adversarial approach to public bodies. It could be so different. We could help people in need to solve their welfare problems in a far more proactive way, if allowed.
What do you think?
If you have a view or an example of waste or failure and how it has been or could be tackled by early action and/or collaboration, let us know. Submit a comment below or send us your example using http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/BGP8Q7S.
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