Issue 11

CHRISTIE 4 YEARS ON: MISSING REAL OPPORTUNITIES?

By Dave Watson, Head of Bargaining and Campaigns, UNISON Scotland and expert adviser to the Christie Commission.

The Christie Commission on the Future Delivery of Public Services was designed as a roadmap for reform. While the general direction of travel is still evident, I would argue that we have lost our way in key areas.

A key element of the Christie recommendations was the recognition that the best examples of public service reform arise when local communities and front-line staff are fully engaged in the process of designing services. Instead of bottom up design, local services have been centralised or subjected to increasing ministerial powers. A point recently reinforced in the report of the Commission on Strengthening Local Democracy in Scotland.

Police and Fire were centralised shortly after Christie, with only a token engagement with local communities. The council tax freeze and ring fencing is turning local authorities into the administrative arm of central government rather than the innovative local leader that Christie envisaged. Colleges have also been merged and regionalised away from local communities.

Health and care integration was used by Christie to make the case for local integration. The new framework does allow a degree of local choice, although ministers retain extensive powers to direct and intervene. Campbell Christie would have been horrified by the race to the bottom in social care brought about by poor procurement policies and fragmentation of service delivery.

A key element of the Christie recommendations was the recognition that the best examples of public service reform arise when local communities and front-line staff are fully engaged in the process of designing services.

Changes to criminal justice social work follow a similar model, but at least another centralising quango option was rejected. Community planning reforms do offer the opportunity to develop local solutions, but with so many key services delivered by national quangos, local engagement is limited.

Another key Christie theme was preventative spending. When money has been available, the Scottish Government has prioritised long-term gains such as early years’ provision and free school meals for P1-3. However, shifting finance to preventative spending is very challenging when £6 billion is being slashed from the Scottish budget and public bodies are putting sticking plasters on collapsing services. The Scottish Parliament Finance Committee in this year’s budget scrutiny has said the limited spending is “unlikely to deliver radical change”.

The inequality that Christie highlighted is still very much with us. As the Scottish Parliament’s Health Committee recently reported, progress has again been limited.

From a workforce perspective, the Christie recommendations still seem some way off. On the plus side, we see fewer consultants with their Blue Peter-style “here’s one we prepared earlier” approach. However, bottom-up design of services is rare. As I argued in the Scotsman recently, the systems thinking approach highlighted in Christie is not widely used.

Government legislation all too often largely ignores the workforce component, giving the impression that services are delivered by robots. There is no workforce strategy that creates a framework to stop reinventing the wheel in every service change. The Christie ‘one public service worker’ concept is nowhere to be seen.

The public sector workforce is all too often having to cut corners and drop the very preventative work Christie rightly put so much value on. UNISON member surveys indicates that these are the very roles that public service staff are abandoning as they fall back on delivering basic statutory services.

From a workforce perspective, the Christie recommendations still seem some way off.

While change is difficult in the current environment, it isn’t impossible. There are good examples of services that are trying to follow the Christie model. Scotland is small enough to develop a workforce strategy that provides a framework for reform, creating the space for local innovation and design.

We should be using staff governance to put engagement and good work at its core – empowering staff and service users, utilising the public service ethos that Christie championed.

By Dave Watson, Head of Bargaining and Campaigns, UNISON Scotland and expert adviser to the Christie Commission.

Issue 11

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