Making the Connections’—Consulation Document on Public Services
The first four years of the Assembly were about setting up an entirely new form of democratic government in Wales. Our priority for the second term is our vision for public services and how they are designed and delivered in Wales. I am therefore publishing the Assembly Government’s policy document, ‘Making the Connections’, today, which sets out that vision. I have made arrangements for copies of the document to be circulated to all Members this afternoon. The Government is part way through a period of historically high and sustained public expenditure on our public services, with total spending almost doubling from just over £7 billion in 1999-2000 to nearly £14 billion in 2007-08 on current plans. As a result, we are seeing far better outcomes, with a sharp fall in unemployment, a sharp rise in the number of apprenticeship trainees, a sharp fall in the infant mortality rate, and a sharp rise in the numbers in training and subsequently employed by the NHS as doctors, nurses and other allied health professionals.
We need to improve the way in which services are delivered and to extract the maximum value from our spending. ‘Making the Connections’ brings together and builds on the different strands of thinking that we have been putting into practice since devolution. The result is an integrated approach that provides the basis for a five-year action plan for better public services.
This will be a major programme, which I will be leading and which runs across all public services, encompassing local authorities, the national health service, quangos and others. Many of our partners are already engaging with the issues and we will consult and work up the action plan with them over the next six months. I will be chairing a public services improvement board to oversee the programme. The board will also include representatives of the main sectors, sitting alongside Ministers.
Our approach is based firmly on the view that the best outcomes in Wales will be delivered through collaboration and co-ordination, not competition. This fits with the nature of Wales as a small country and the people of Wales’s strong sense of ownership of their public services. Four principles underpin our vision. The first is that to deliver responsive services, we need to place citizens and communities centre stage. The empowerment of the citizen and the community will drive the improvement. I use the term ‘citizen’ in its most inclusive sense as embracing everyone, and I use it to emphasise that the people of Wales are much more than customers of public services. They have the right to hold public services to account, and public service organisations have a duty to respond. Even more important is that the empowered citizens of Wales need to play their part, as pupils, parents, patients, or as members of the community in general, because users and producers must be on the same side to get the best results in public service delivery. In ‘Making the Connections’, we set out a range of practical actions to place citizens centre stage. These include better information about their needs and perceptions, stronger accountability, more flexibility, greater participation by citizens and communities in designing and planning services and better front-line access. Linked to this, we will set out our proposals for Cymru Ar-lein later this week.
The second principle is our commitment to equality and social justice. In ‘Wales: A Better Country’, we set out how we would target resources to those in greatest need. We also set out the ways in which public services need to reach out to the excluded and the vulnerable, placing particular emphasis on people and communities facing disadvantage.
The third principle is that by working together as the Welsh public service, existing bodies can achieve economies of scale and deliver better quality public services. We set out proposals for encouraging collaboration between bodies, for simplifying relationships and for reducing bureaucratic and regulatory burdens on the front line. My announcement in July about the mergers with the Welsh Development Agency, the Wales Tourist Board and Education and Learning Wales was part of the simplification agenda, and I expect to announce further decisions as regards other ASPBs next month.
The fourth principle is our determination to ensure that people in Wales get the greatest possible value from investment in public services. We are setting a target of achieving £600 million a year in efficiency savings by 2010 across the public service and will put structures in place to help public services deliver those savings. These structures include Value Wales, a national procurement and support services office. This office is an Assembly Government business unit, not an ASPB. The origins of Value Wales lie in the successful Welsh procurement initiative, and it will work with agencies with a good track record such as Welsh Health Supplies. We will also expect public bodies to achieve efficiencies through sharing corporate support services and other initiatives. For example, I can confirm that the north Wales shared service project is now underway, looking at how business services for NHS bodies can be delivered more effectively.
This is a big change agenda and the support and engagement of the workforce and managers will be crucial. We shall keep in close touch with the trade unions as the action plan is shaped and implemented. Later this week, we will announce details of ‘Public Service Management Wales’, the origins of which is our pathfinding public services management initiative. Its role will be to develop a distinctively Welsh approach to developing public servants and managers in Wales.
Many of the actions will be implemented through existing spending programmes but we also need a dedicated budget. The Finance Minister has accordingly made provision for £32 million over the next three years to underpin the action plan.
The agenda of ‘Making the Connections’ is crucial. It is only on some aspects that I can give you the detail today. We wish to allow time for Assembly Members to digest my announcement today and to read the document. We will provide time for a full debate towards the end of the consultation period.
I commend these proposals to the Assembly.