Starting gun fired on pre-election public services debate

Ruby Casey-Knight was NCVO’s Public Services Manager. She led policy in public service delivery, focusing on health and social care, criminal justice and welfare to work. Ruby has now left NCVO but these posts have been retained for reference.

Public service delivery has been high on the political agenda this week. Ed Miliband used his Hugo Young lecture on Monday to outline Labour’s ‘new culture’ of public service delivery. He placed voice firmly alongside choice, through a focus on ‘people-powered’ public services. Across the political spectrum we hear about the importance of engaging service users and enabling design and delivery of services that are closer to the needs of citizens.

These themes carried through the week to Wednesday, which brought IPPR’s paper on the relational state. The paper:

  • argued that both centralised government delivery and market-based tools are inadequate in the face of complex social problems
  • called for decentralisation of budgets, pooling of funding, multi-disciplinary teams, frontline autonomy and collaborative infrastructures.

It was encouraging to see within this, recognition of the role the voluntary and community sector can play in delivering high quality public services. We know that voluntary organisations are well placed to offer holistic, joined-up services built around users and rooted in local knowledge. Reforms must be implemented in a way that enables, rather than undermines, their work.

With 15 months to go to the election, we can expect more ideas from all political parties on how to manage service delivery with scarce resources. We have a rare window to influence this thinking, which will underpin future delivery.

Boosted public services capacity at NCVO

This makes for an exciting time to have started as NCVO’s Public Services Manager. It’s a new role that has been created, along with the Public Services Senior Officer post filled by Lev Pedro, to boost the capacity of the existing Partnerships Team.

The team helps voluntary organisations delivering public services to work well with government and to achieve the best outcomes. This includes a focus on employment, justice, health and EU structural funds. For example we are delivering training and support for voluntary organisations, including a series of Commercial Masterclasses, sponsored by the Cabinet Office.

Working with members to influence manifestos

In my first couple of weeks, I have enjoyed getting to know our members and partners. I met with members of our Public Service Delivery Network at the quarterly meeting this week. We heard from Charlotte Ravenscroft, NCVO’s Head of Policy and Research, who provided an update on our 2015 Project. NCVO is determined to make the most of the opportunity to influence manifesto development, and is testing key themes for 2015 with members.

There was consensus on the challenges facing voluntary organisations delivering public services – cuts impacting on the most vulnerable, increasing focus on the price rather than quality of public services, lack of pre-procurement dialogue and understanding, poorly designed or inflexible service specifications, larger contracts, disproportionate bidding requirements and lack of time for consortia-building. There were also clear messages on potential solutions – co-design of services, reducing demand through early intervention, personalisation, open data, accountability, training and guidance for commissioners, and harnessing the potential of the Social Value Act.

These messages will inform our work on the public services strand of the 2015 Project. We hope to set out how voluntary organisations can be enabled to deliver excellent outcomes through improved commissioning, early action and better government decision making. I look forward to a lively dialogue with members and partners on these issues in coming months.

Get involved

We are using our Public Service Delivery Network to connect with members and partners on these issues in the run-up to 2015. If you would like to be involved, email us at

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