Accountability for public services

Changing how public services are held to account is a central objective of the Coalition's approach to government. Transparency, choice, competition, payment by results and election of local officials are intended to usher in a new system of 'democratic accountability'.

Background

The government is proposing an array of different means by which citizens can hold public services to account, such as:

  • departmental business plans - to open up the centre of government to public scrutiny
  • elected mayors and police commissioners - to offer the potential for direct democratic control over services at a local level
  • transparency about spending and performance - to create an army of 'armchair auditors' to replace centralised performance management
  • 'responsibility without power' - ministers will be held accountable by parliament and others whilst giving up their ability to control how front line services are delivered.

Our work on the Big Society has found the success of local collaboration and innovation will depend on the strength of local accountability. And our review of ministerial accountability suggests that decentralising ministers will face many situations which may encourage them to intervene in services.

The Institute aims to provide an account of how the different aspects of accountability could work, and highlight the danger of unforeseen hurdles.

Institute work programme

Initially, we are focusing on two important elements of accountability for public services:

We will highlight challenges for the decentralising minister, draw out good practice for developing resilient systems and reflect on parliament's ongoing oversight of decentralised services.

  1. Local accountability

    This will examine the implications of localism, decentralisation and the Big Society for existing and new forms of local accountability.

    We will draw out how the different mechanisms might relate to each other and address potential inconsistencies and challenges. We will also review how aspects of local accountability are working in practice, including:

    • elected mayors
    • community based budgets
    • the interaction between government and charities and community groups

       

  2. Ministerial accountability

    The accountability of ministers to parliament is an established, ambiguous concept in British governance. Our work will focus on how ministerial accountability has operated for decentralised public services, looking at:

    • recent cases of decentralisation - e.g. NHS foundation trusts and academy schools
    • more established arrangements - e.g. the government's relations with universities