Research carried out for PSNGB has helped illuminate the top priorities and challenges facing leaders in public services. In particular it has highlighted the role of collaboration in addressing these issues and hence the potential for exploitation of the Public Services Network (PSN) to deliver benefits and efficiencies much greater than its early success in cutting communications costs.PSNGB commissioned original research from Kable, interviewing 25 senior public sector executives during March and April 2013: 13 of them CEOs, 7 Directors of Finance or Chief Financial Officers, and 3 Chief Constables. The leaders represented a mix of sectors, including local government, health, central government, police, and the emergency services.
The top challenges for those interviewed were linked to budget and resource constraints coupled with change, uncertainty and increasing demand for services.Unprompted, 21 (82%) mentioned budget cuts and resource constraints, with 11 (44%) noting change and uncertainty and 10 (40%) increasing demands for services.Significantly 8 (32%) respondents talked about the challenge of just keeping the current level of services going.
It was clear from several responses that respondent organisations had exhausted the potential of short term cost savings and that more transformational change was needed to meet the ongoing challenge of delivering more and better services for less money. One CEO commented “we find ourselves in times of great financial difficulty where the demands on services are increasing and have a need of finding new ways of doing things”. Others noted “we simply won’t meet the current and future demand if we carry on the same as we do now… our major priority has to be new service models” and “we have done the easy savings (and) more difficult savings and we are left with fundamental changes”.
Asked about their most important business priorities the themes that emerged supported this need for innovation and change. 15 (60%) indicated that they were exploring new operating models or ways of delivering services more efficiently, with 12 (48%) mentioning that they were actively prioritising services.
A second theme concerned deprivation and inequality, with a focus noted by 7 (28%) on vulnerable populations; 5 (20%) on boosting the economy or improving the prospects and skills of the local community and 4 (16%) on keeping basic services running.
Given the frequent cross-organisation nature of service delivery, all participants recognised the need for collaboration and more than half felt that this was essential, whilst recognising that it must be productive and beneficial to succeed, with shared objectives and understanding of issues. One respondent commented that collaboration was “crucial and will be even more for achieving our objectives, also for resilience and savings”, whilst another noted it was “a tool that can be used, not a silver bullet” and a third that is was “very challenging to do, it looks good on paper but it does take a lot of blood, sweat and tears to make it work”.
The realities of collaboration as described by leaders interviewed can be summarised as; it’s hard work – it takes time to get to agreement and then to get results, partners need a shared vision and mutually compatible measures for success, and complementary capabilities and information that bridge gaps provide a basic foundation for success.
Parochialism, unequal benefits, differing central and local views and aversion to the risk of large, game changing, initiatives needing upfront investment were mentioned as barriers to collaboration.
PSNGB believe that the case for gaining PSN compliance, consolidating networks and connecting is already compelling. The cashable savings are proven by Cabinet Office - but the opportunity to exploit PSN more fully, with much greater returns, is highlighted by the research findings.
The National Audit Office (NAO) also recognised that early savings, whilst important, can be unsustainable in the long run and that real service innovation and change are needed to generate sustained efficiencies and better public services. To quote from a recent NAO report: “This is the greatest challenge for PSN - to sustain cost saving whilst articulating the much greater economies and sustainable public service improvements that must be built on PSN.”
PSN provides a platform for innovation and public service transformation. It enables, in the words of the NAO, “ICT solutions that reform public services and the way that government works”.
Exploiting PSN brings new challenges also, as our respondents identified, in particular the process, people and management challenge of aligning different organisations, sometimes with different goals and cultures, to collaborate and cocreate public services.
“Fundamental change” and “new ways of doing things” to achieve long-term sustainable savings mean redesigning public services from the outside in, starting with the citizen and replacing old processes, changing systems, re-aligning the way people do things and giving them the tools to work more flexibly and quickly. It means joining up, working closely and sharing resources rather than protecting or competing. And above all it means openness, agility and innovation as the key to delivering better services in the face of unlimited demand and shrinking budgets.
We believe that by creating a single conduit shared by millions of people working to deliver public services throughout the UK, delivered by an open and competitive marketplace, PSN can be a genuine enabler that helps senior public leaders reconcile the conflicting demands of year on year savings and spiralling expectations for service improvement.
PSNGB’s programme of engagement with senior public leaders will continue throughout 2013 with further results shared as it progresses.
For further information
Enquiries about this news release should be made to. Neil Mellor, Marketing Director PSNGB Limited
(firstname.lastname@example.org, 01977 591552)
The PSNGB is the trade association for suppliers of PSN services. Its aims to help develop and grow the competitive PSN marketplace and to highlight the potential of PSN to save government money and to improve public services. www.psngb.org | email@example.com
The Public Services Network (PSN) is an initiative managed by the Cabinet Office that is substantially reducing the cost of communication services across UK Government and enabling new, joined-up and shared public services. PSN creates a common network and a more open and competitive ICT marketplace for the UK public sector.