Commission says public services need 'prevention' focus

Shoppers The report said communities and people must have a greater say on the future of services

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More than a third of public cash in Scotland is spent on social problems which could have been prevented in the first place, a new report has warned.

A major investigation into the future of public services has warned they will "buckle" without more preventative measures to tackle inequality.

Former Scottish TUC general secretary Campbell Christie was asked by the government to undertake the work.

He has urged ministers to begin moving ahead with the reforms.

The Scottish government said it would look at taking them forward, while council umbrella group Cosla said it was moving immediately to implement the recommendations, regardless of the SNP's timescale.

In its final report, the commission on the future delivery of public services warned that, with spending not expected to return to 2010 levels for 16 years, major reforms were needed.

It said problems were being compounded by an increase in demand for services, concluding: "Unless Scotland embraces a radical, new, collaborative culture throughout our public services, both budgets and provision will buckle under the strain."


There are potential flaws aplenty. The focus of the report is upon early intervention to prevent the emergence of social problems which will, otherwise, land the state with big bills later down the line.

In short, they say, let us try harder to prevent families from requiring social care, to prevent people from requiring hospital treatment, to deflect young people from an aimless life which ends in prison.

So much, so obvious, you might remark. But the Christie Commission suggests a range of practical ideas as to how this over-arching ambition might be mandated within the public sector.

The commission said that, despite moves to drive out inequality and increased spending levels since devolution, the problem had in some cases become worse.

It concluded Scotland's cycle of deprivation and low aspiration must be tackled with a shift in spending priorities to the prevention of social problems.

The approach, said the commission, could cut demand - and big bills - in health, social care and justice.

The body has also called for the tougher auditing of public spending and community involvement in designing services.

"It is estimated that as much as 40% of all spending on public services is accounted for by interventions that could have been avoided by prioritising a preventative approach," the commission said.

"Tackling these fundamental inequalities and focusing resources on preventative measures must be a key objective of public service reform."

Among its recommendations for reform, the commission, said:

  • Services must be designed with, and for, people and communities - not delivered "top down" for administrative convenience
  • Scarce resources must be maximised by using all resources from the public, private and voluntary sectors, as well as people, groups and communities
  • New legal requirements would require public bodies to take preventative action on tackling inequalities
  • Underlying causes of inter-generational deprivation and low aspiration must be targeted
  • Better, long-term planning must be undertaken on policies like universal entitlements, such as free bus travel or care for the elderly
  • Public spending watchdog Audit Scotland should be given a stronger remit to improve performance and save money

Mr Christie said the way ahead was clear, adding: "The process of reform must begin now, and I would urge the Scottish government to act quickly and decisively and to use our recommendations as a route map for the difficult journey ahead.

Start Quote

Scottish government is ambitious to maintain and improve our public services within tightly constrained resources”

End Quote John Swinney Scottish finance secretary

"This is not solely a matter of fiscal necessity but a once-in-a-generation opportunity to implement radical reforms that will provide improved public services that are better focused on the needs of the people they seek to support."

STUC general secretary Grahame Smith said there was "little" in the report to help the Scottish government with more immediate spending cuts, but welcomed its long-term vision.

"The commission clearly identifies the public sector as a driver not just of fairness but of growth - a million miles away from the view of the right wing and big business that public services are a drag on the economy," he said.

Cosla said the report laid out "a journey that local government is both willing and able to travel".

"The report contains recommendations and it is traditional to wait for a government response before any such recommendations are implemented," said the organisation.

"However, Cosla supports this report to such an extent that we will not be waiting for a government response - instead we will be moving forward immediately to do what we can at our own hand to act in the way that the commission suggests."

'Significant challenges'

Welcoming the commission's report, Scottish Finance Secretary John Swinney said the Holyrood government's track record of working at a local level and boosting efficiency savings had provided a "firm foundation" to work from.

"In the current economic climate and with increasing demand on the services that matter most to the people of Scotland, the need to improve service delivery and redesign services to secure greater value for money is pressing," he said.

"Our public services face significant challenges - unprecedented cuts to the Scottish government budget from Westminster, long standing inequalities, increased public expectations and an imperative to cut carbon emissions.

"However, the Scottish government is ambitious to maintain and improve our public services within tightly constrained resources."

Labour finance spokesman Richard Baker, said: "The SNP made a number of big promises during the election such as no compulsory redundancies in the public sector.

"That pledge is already starting to unravel so ministers, in the light of this important report, need to explain how they plan to reshape our public services for the better now."

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie, added: "After years of dodge and delay, we now have an answer for the SNP on how to pay for the best possible public services.

"We now need immediate action as every bit of further delay will only hurt those who need these services most."

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