One year on from its concluding report, the Commission on 2020 Public Services is publishing its assessment of the progress made so far against the long term challenges identified in From Social Security to Social Productivity: a Vision for 2020 Public Services.
The Commission is a diverse group, professionally and politically, whose concerns, interests and judgements inevitably differ. This breadth gives its progress report particular depth and authority at a time when politics often appears to be polarised and overly simplistic.
Despite early fears of instability or paralysis, the Coalition has proved to be a robust government. It has embarked on a clear and coherent deficit reduction strategy. It has been ambitious and far reaching in its public service reforms and has sought to develop long term answers to big social policy questions such as the future of adult care, welfare and pensions. And it has recognised the importance of rebalancing power away from the centre and towards localities.
Yet as well as achievements, the report also finds problems, enduring tensions and challenges un-addressed. Last year, the Commission argued for a new settlement between citizens, communities and the state which would engage all of us in sharing the responsibility for achieving better social outcomes. Reformed public services would foster a new spirit of social citizenship, characterised by social responsibility, reciprocity and resilience. Forging them would require fundamental and long term change, developed – critically – in open dialogue with citizens.
Today, there are echoes of the Commission’s analysis and aspirations in some aspects of Coalition policy – for example, in the promotion of open data as a way of catalysing social innovation. But it appears that the central message has gone largely unheeded, by government and opposition alike. Fundamental change has yet to take root; citizens are only sporadically engaged; some feel increasingly excluded. Action and analysis have too often been out of step. Even where the analysis has been promising, for example in relation to early intervention, implementation has sometimes been disappointing.
Download the report here.