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.