Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 310-313)



  310. Is it not easier though, and this is where I come back to the low risk, to negotiate the extra service but at a price, rather than actually changing contractor?
  (Mr Aldridge) I think, unless the relationship has broken down to the point where there is no relationship, then, within the spirit of the contract, there are things that probably I want and there are things that the customer wants, and that is very open and the shared objectives and the shared vision are discussed very openly at the board. And, of course, we do go through best value reviews, so, in a sense, we have equally got to be moving on and creating the value for the authority as well.
  (Mr Tizard) What it also enables is a much more mature and informed discussion about change control. In traditional CCT-type contracting, when the public sector body wanted change, it was always going to be the price; but what we can now do is actually have a proper discussion about what are the options, what might we do differently to accommodate the needs for change, and actually we often bring proposals, the local authority may bring proposals, we then work the proposals through in a sensible and mature way, which allocates risk and balances risk and cost between the two partners. Again, and that will be determined on a project-by-project basis.

  311. And, just finally, local authorities have moved on, and, to use the jargon, into joined-up thinking; in as far as you are picking off particular services to run, how can a local authority actually integrate fully all of its service delivery the more the bits get pulled away from it?
  (Mr Aldridge) That is very much why we want to be positioned as a company which is looking at integrated contracts. In the case of one local authority, we found that if the parent of a disabled child wanted help they had to go to 12 different points in the organisation, and other points outside of the organisation. So it is not only about joined-up government in terms of joined-up within the authority, it is joined-up with other agencies of Government; and some of these business centres that we are structuring give you the place where you can have those sorts of relationships done. So I quite agree with you. Because, going back to the customer point, it is what the customer wants, and I do not think that, without having these sorts of discussion of trying to modernise services, the organisations are going to move fast enough and far enough to be able to deliver some of those things.

  312. Do you think you are better poised to deliver the joined-up services?
  (Mr Tizard) I think we are in a position to facilitate that, and it goes back to the question that Mr White asked earlier on, about that ability to re-engineer the whole organisation, to put in systems, and IT in particular, that enables authorities to work across and with other agencies. We also often free up senior management time, and, indeed, political leadership time, in local government, to concentrate on the core community leadership role, the core responsibility for raising standards in education, in ensuring that there is quality social care linked to health care, when we are running some of the process, and administrative processes, which free up that management time, and hopefully releases resource to facilitate that as well. And again picking up Mr White's point earlier, our vision would be, to have support services across the whole range of agencies in a locality, or on a sub-regional basis, which should facilitate better front-line working between; if you have got a common IT system, it is actually easier to have a common service delivery.

Brian White

  313. I think what we have had this morning has been a very useful discussion about the way public services are moving forward. But to finish with one final question. Given that you have said that you would like to see a single public sector culture, and we have talked about partnerships, how would you actually define the public service ethos?
  (Mr Aldridge) I start somewhere back from that. I say that public services are critical, and I think that they are critical to the well-being of the individual and to the economy. And I think we should look to have the best possible public services that we can, within the money we are prepared to spend. You cannot argue against not having a very good education service, that I am very passionate about. What I say, however, is that, if you look at what is changing, what is changing is that the customer is telling us that they want things delivered in a different way, and a lot of it is about the way they interact and the way that they are served, the whole area of a joined-up nature. My feeling there is that that should be driven by the customer, not by the provider, and I think, if you are going to do that, the provider has to be open-minded about how you are going to change and develop. When you get on to sort of like ethos, in a sense, I think you have got to have a service ethos, whether you are in the public or you are in the private sector, and I think the difference is the accountability to that. If we do not have a service ethos we will not survive, and it is as direct and immediate as that. I think, in a sense, that the service ethos in the public sector, if people are not happy with services as a user, they have not got an alternative, and they complain, and ultimately they have a way of going through the ballot box, I guess, to people who elect them. And I think, therefore, what we have got to work to is creating that environment that we are talking about, where in partnership the public and the private sector can work to change what I think is a magnificent opportunity to really work together and to change for the benefit of the end customer, and I do not think the customer will accept that that cannot happen, because, technology and because of other organisations in their lives, it is happening and it has got to happen in the public sector.

  Brian White: Can I thank both of you for coming here this morning. It has certainly given us some insight into not just your company but the way that change is happening in the public sector; so thank you very much, and you have given us quite a bit to think about. Thank you.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 7 February 2002