After much delay and anticipation, the government’s Open Public Services white paper, published in July 2011, sets out how it intends to improve and modernise our public services. By “putting choice and control in the hands of individuals and neighbourhoods”, it believes it can make public services more responsive to people’s needs. It is applying five key principles: increased choice; decentralising power to the “lowest appropriate level”; diversity – public services should be open to a range of providers; fair access to services; accountability – our public services should be accountable to service users and taxpayers. .
It all sounds like something we might be able to sign up to. However, choice requires that people are informed in a way that they understand and can use to bring about positive benefits for themselves. Choice needs to be genuine rather than simply a variety of providers offering the same services. And if we are having diversity, will all choices be available to all people in all areas? Will people be able to buy in services from their neighbouring local authority if what they want isn’t offered in their area?
Charities will be given more opportunities to bid for government money. Trustees and charity managers will have to make some careful decisions. However, are charities ready to deliver the types of public services that government wants and the public needs? While many are already having success, others will not have the skills, experience or capital to do the job at the scale that is being asked of them.