How to avoid the pitfalls of open public services

On paper, the Government’s vision for open public services sounds appealing. It will give people more choice. Innovative organisations will step up to provide public services in new ways. And competition will force poorly performing providers to up their game or face failure.

Few areas will be untouched by efforts to ‘open up’ public services through choice and competition. Flagship reforms in schools, health and social care all aim to ensure that public, private and voluntary sector providers are funded according to how much citizens want to use their services. Where direct choice is not considered appropriate – in employment services, prisons or probation, for example – public sector commissioners will choose on behalf of users. They will change how they commission services to try to ensure that providers are only rewarded when they deliver ‘results’.

While attractive in theory, however, making choice and competition work in practice is far from straightforward. Recent high profile difficulties include G4S’ failure to deliver on its Olympics security contract and the 2011 collapse of Southern Cross Care Homes. History provides further examples. To understand the difficulties and identify possible remedies, the Institute for Government brought practitioners and advisers together to examine four particularly common and problematic issues:

1. commissioning skills

2. effective choice

3. continuity of service

4. collaborative commissioning.

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