Public Services re-imagined as franchises

If you start from the premise that the devolution /localisation/mutualisation (and any other word you want to use which means ‘different from the way it is today’) of public services is a centripetal rather than centrifugal process then there is a need to think radically differently about how to make real change. Despite much talk of “letting go” there has not been a rush to mutualise, and the private sector are unwilling to take risk on the more difficult services (step forward elderly social care). Letting go assumes change is centrifugal. Stark reality is that it is not. It is relatively easy to make the case not to allow any outsourcing / spinning off on the grounds of cost, or risk, or competence, etc. A bit of “letting go” in a centripetal environment is not really going to make change happen.  Whilst citizen rights to challenge are being introduced they are simply not a strong enough force to break the bonds of incumbent inertia.

If you turn the problem on its head and make the whole system centrifugal things will immediately start to move. Start from the principle that no current public service provider has a right to deliver anything. In effect Whitehall becomes the master franchiser and asks anyone to bid to run the franchise for an area on either a service or package of services basis. As a council we would become a delivery organisation and could bid to run a more coherent package of activity than we currently have. Perhaps I could focus on transactional services such as benefits (everything from job centres to council tax) and most of what the DVLA do locally. I would probably be competing against utility companies to do the job over a large geography. I may not want social care – the NHS may want that, or perhaps BUPA, Capita, et al may fancy a crack at it. A single organisation running blue light services would probably make more sense than the current splits.  The opportunity for small businesses is massive in this model. Genuine mutualisation and spin offs become easy. The list goes on but I guess you get the idea.

When this first starts it has the potential to be a bit business as usual as the incumbents are likely to win much of the first round of bidding. However if the franchises are initially  short and there is a very low tolerance of failure then it wouldn’t be long before the landscape would start to change. Fire up the centrifuge.




About iansthoughts

Chief Operating Officer at DEFRA, and former council Chief Executive. All views expressed are my own and not formal policy of my employers current or past.
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2 Responses to Public Services re-imagined as franchises

  1. jonathanflowers says:

    Makes sense … but (where) does the local democracy come in to it? And local taxation for that matter. Is this to a national service spec and is it input or outcome?

    I had a thought experiment a while ago of having cabinet members for each council theme (not department), figuring out how much we spent on each theme, and then inviting the council departments to bid to the relevant cabinet member for the money instead of the normal budget round. So that way environment could make a case for eg supporting health through provision of leisure services, and so on. Scared people senseless, and I wasn’t even thinking about opening up to external competition too! But would love to see it done one day!

  2. Mark Dixon says:

    Not sure I want my local government spinning off all sorts of services…we already have a silo problem in all govt levels which prevents a service delivery focus and a single view of the citizen.
    Besides, spinning things out makes doing integrated analytics a huge and expensive challenge…the data is fragmented and duplicated all over in various clouds…nasty.
    I’d much prefer an architected, collaborative approach to shared services, especially in IT. In fact, IT should be leading such an effort, as its much easier to move bits than atoms.

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