This report explores government’s design and oversight of public service markets in:

  • employment services (the Work Programme)
  • secondary education
  • care for older people
  • probation services.

It builds on previous Institute for Government research and is based on 85 interviews with those commissioning, delivering and advising on service provision in these areas; a review of existing evidence; and, a series of deliberative workshops and roundtables involving government officials, independent experts and private, public and voluntary sector providers of public services.

The report examines the underlying reasons for varying levels of effectiveness, identifies opportunities for improvement and provides recommendations for how the government can professionalise its approach to commissioning and overseeing public service markets.

We strongly urge the government to adopt more of a ‘stewardship’ role: closely monitoring the way in which these markets are developing and adjusting the rules and incentives providers face to steer the system towards delivering governments’ overall policy aims.

We also provide frameworks to help government think through when to use and how to design public service markets. And we provide advice on how government departments, local commissioners and regulators should structure themselves and operate to ensure public service markets deliver desired outcomes.