Magazine article Public Finance

Getting Personal

Magazine article Public Finance

Getting Personal

Article excerpt

Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Opposition leader David Cameron have argued strongly in favour of more choice and control over services to individuals and communities.

But the Guardian has recently unearthed a new scepticism. 'Forget personalisation', managers at Jobcentre Plus have been quoted as saying. Personalisation is pointless in the current economic climate and unable to cope with the weight of new customers flooding through their doors, they argue.

This opens up a much wider question about public services - is this the right time for the government to seek to redesign services around the individual? With funding for all parts of the public sector tightening over the coming years, should we focus on the basics and postpone a wider radical restructuring?

The answer should be a resounding 'no'. In fact, there is a very strong economic and business case for introducing and deepening personalisation, not only into re-employment programmes but also into health, social care and beyond. Research by the New Local Government Network suggests that, if the right approach is taken, personalisation has the potential not only to give individuals and communities more choice and control, but also to save money.

However, to bring about this change we must have a different perspective on efficiencies. Traditionally, ministers have seen this mainly as an issue of productivity.

Therefore, we have seen more block contracts; an emphasis on standardised services; efforts to remove supposedly unnecessary tiers of government; and larger, costfocused procurement exercises based on longer and bigger contracts to drive rationalisation and economies of scale. In such a scenario, customer choice has been seen as inefficient, requiring as it does surplus provider capacity. And, although some £4bn of efficiencies have emerged from this approach, such savings are fast drying up.

Neither should the track record of central state efficiency or public sector productivity encourage us to look to Whitehall for the answer. Investment in the police service and the NHS has not so far resulted in a commensurate increase in productivity.

However, rather than being concerned with productive efficiencies, we should focus on understanding demand and what precisely should be allocated.

In adult social care, individual budgets have laid bare the gross wastage of the old standardised approach. Some individuals are receiving more care than they need and the state is wasting many thousands of pounds, when these needs could be met more directly for less. …

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