Summary: Open public services

16 September 2011

The open public services white paper is a far ranging look at the delivery of public services. If your organisation is funded by public money, or would like to be, then you need to know about this. Below is our summary of the policy and what we think are the potential opportunities for cultural learning.

Open public services is about every single type of public service. If it is paid for by the public purse then the government wants the five principles applied and three levels of service used to determine how it is delivered.

The principles are:
1. Choice
2. Decentralisation
3. Diversity
4. Fairness
5. Accountability

The three levels of service are:
1. Individual services
2. Neighbourhood services
3. Commissioned services

The plan is that the principles are used to decide how the service should be delivered, and delivery should take place at the smallest possible service level. So if a service can be delivered to individuals, for example care in the home, then it will be set up as an individual service with people spending their own budgets. If that isn’t possible, then it will be at neighbourhood level delivered by neighbourhood councils which could include arts and cultural activities. For something like the Work Programme or back office services that are not economic to deliver at neighbourhood level then it should be commissioned with effort put in to opening up the commissioning process to new providers.

The paper outlines plans to ‘advantage the disadvantaged’ and acknowledges that some communities and individuals will need more support to make choices about how they spend their budgets or what type of activities they commission. To ensure fair access Community Organisers will be funded to work with these groups. The aim is that a mechanism of ‘choice, transparency and voice’ will ensure accountability.

The paper acknowledges that when delivering public services the ‘full social value’ of any service needs to be understood and spending decisions made on the social value of a service. The new indicators for measuring national wellbeing will be used to assess this. This is important for cultural organisations as frequently the instrumental benefits of our work relate to wellbeing.

Potential opportunities in this new policy for cultural learning are:
• Provision of activities to individuals funded by personal budgets or life long learning accounts (Choice principle/Individual services)
• Delivering contracts for services, either as a result of contracts being fragmented so smaller contracts are offered, or being part of consortia for joined up contracts for example to delivering activities to meet adult social care, children’s services and health outcomes. (Diversity principle: range of providers)
• Being commissioned by Neighbourhood Councils to deliver arts and cultural activities or as part of Local Integrated Services (LIS) to deliver on outcomes the locality prioritizes

Recommendations in the white paper that could enable more cultural organisations to help deliver public services are:
• Removing pre-qualification questionnaires for contracts under 100K;
• Making data sets more accessible via the Public Data Corporation so we can evidence impact more easily and know more about audiences in any given area;
• A register of public assets has also been published which could enable cultural organisations to better understand the local infrastructure and organisations they could work in partnership with.

The government is currently consulting on the ways they can deliver the principles of open public services. The consultation closes 30th September and you can respond here. The CLA will of course be responding on behalf of the sector so if you have any thoughts you want us to include please get in touch: