Friday, 30 January 2009

Dog-eat-dog time already?

So much for ‘partnership’

The English ‘third-sector’, at least an organised claque of big charities, has been making a growing fuss about its expectations for Government subsidy to see it through the recession. The Government, hardly surprisingly, is so far declining to respond.

Meanwhile, in another part of the forest (or should that read ‘jungle’?) one branch of the state seems already to think that now is the time to rein back on public money for charities.

A report of research by the ‘Association for Public Sector Excellence’ proposes that some public services now outsourced to charities and private organisations would be improved if brought back in-house and provided under local-authority control.

Research

People in Conductive Education already well know that fickle jade ‘research’.

The Association’s report is based upon case studies of more that fifty local authorities. It says that the benefits to councils of bringing services back under their control would include improved cost-efficiency, better-performing and higher-quality services, and enhanced community wellbeing. ‘Better value for money’ also figures.

The report says that there is a ‘strategic and operational case for bringing services back in-house from the private and third sectors.’ Paul O'Brien, chief executive of the APSE, is reported as saying:

Our research findings are very clear: it is about the public sector taking a pragmatic approach to all options available for service delivery. What matters to local citizens is value for money and good services. If this is best provided by insourcing a service, then it is something that should be implemented.

The report's title, however, is already ahead of this, suggesting that the case is already decided: Insourcing: a guide to bringing local authority services back in-house.

The spell-check on my spanking new computer (irritatingly business-oriented in the language that it would pefer me to use) does not recognise the word ‘insourcing’. No doubt the next update will be able to make good that omission..

The Association for Public Sector Excellence

The Association describes itself as a ‘not for profit local government body working with over 300 councils throughout the UK’. It does not itself appear to be a charity (at least under this name). Rather it is a common-interest group providing services to members like training and, as here, lobbying/campaigning for their common interests.

The Association’s research activity seems embedded in the latter role, as it ‘campaigns on behalf of its membership to highlight issues of concern within local government and has an effective research and lobbying role when key consultations are launched.

The study in question here has yet to appear on the Association’s website. Doubtless it soon will. Enthusiasts should keep an eye out for it.

And Conductive Education?

The Association defines itself as…

…the foremost specialist in local authority front line services, hosting a network for front line service providers in areas such as waste and refuse collection, parks and environmental services, leisure, school meals, cleaning, housing and building maintenance.

Such activities may seem at first sight a long way removed from the human services for which Conductive Education might seek ‘public-voluntary partnerships’. Councils is councils, however, and if and when they successfully pull back from contracting to the charitable sector fpr some of their functions, there will be interested eyes looking to how local-authority autarchy can be re-established in others, especially at a time of diminishing financial resources. What price ’partnership’ when there is competition for cash, and jobs and careers depend on the outcome.

Perhaps this is unfair. Unfortunately the Association has chosen to style itself by one of those now much devalued-by-PR words. The weasel-word ‘excellence’ instantly cries out for the listener to seek hidden agendas and motives, and to wonder whether anyone anywhere is still bamboozled by this claim in any context. Think of the other ‘excellences’ that you know…

Reference and note

Townsend, S. (2009) Services 'may do better under public sector control' Third Sector Online, 30 January
http://www.thirdsector.co.uk/News/DailyBulletin/877299/Services-may-better-public-sector-control/122D91EC3FD072043713DAC168EB6792/?DCMP=EMC-DailyBulletin

Association for Public Sector Excellence
http://www.apse.org.uk/index.html

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