CSPP Chair Highlights Unequal Engagement in Universal Public Services

16/4/15 (Centre for Scottish Public Policy) – CSPP Chair Professor Richard Kerley today highlighted the problem of unequal engagement in universal public services by different sectors of the population, which he described under the concept of “realised universalism”.

The issue was raised at a conference in Edinburgh today about how Scotland’s public services should respond to the challenges of “more powers and less money”, with the Scottish parliament’s budget to be cut at the same time as new powers contained in the Scotland Bill are set to be devolved.

Organised by MacKay Hannah, the conference brought together policy experts from a range of organisations and sectors, including keynote speaker Marco Biagi MSP, Minister for Local Government and Community Empowerment.

CSPP Chair Richard Kerley was asked to speak on the Powers and Purpose panel, where among other issues he focused on the unequal participation of citizens in universal services.

“We have made a great deal of the virtues of universalism, yet the reality is that in a whole array of publically provided, no charge services, they are not realised by a universal population”, he said.

Examples given included lower university attendance by those from low income families, and how people from disadvantaged backgrounds have a lower opt-in rate to medical screening services.

The issue ties into the CSPP’s examination of how public service innovation, as part of a wider policy approach, can help reduce inequalities in life outcomes in Scotland. It is also part of the organisation’s policy work on issues pertaining to both ‘people’ and ‘place’ and how to better life quality and outcomes for all citizens.

The issue of inequalities in life expectancy and income was also treated by other speakers, with John McLaren of Fiscal Affairs Scotland arguing that reducing the life expectancy gap should be a primary goal of the Scottish parliament. Meanwhile, Alison Payne of Reform Scotland spoke of the need for greater lines of accountability and to overcome the “postcode lottery” by devolving more responsibilities to local authorities and communities.

Richard Kerley also used Donald Rumsfeld’s concept of “Known Knowns, Known Unknowns and Unknown Unknowns” to offer insight into different dimensions of how we think about public services, both in the short and longer term.

An example of a Known Known was that in some local authority areas both demography and workforce availability affect the delivery of services as much as funding pressures. 

Meanwhile a Known Unknown was whether the integration of health and social care will have the desired results, with one possible effect being the withering of the role of health boards in some areas. Further, Unknown Unknowns include how differing trade practices, such as methods of notetaking between social workers and health practitioners, could have a practical implication for integration efforts.

For his part, Marco Biagi MSP said that in the face of spending cuts from Westminster, the Scottish Government seeks to “squeeze every last bit of value out of the resources that we have, and ensure that the devolution of more powers from Westminster to Holyrood also leads to the pushing out of power and influence to those most affected by decisions”.

Further, the minister argued that the Scottish approach to these challenges was “partnership working” between government, local authorities, and the private and third sectors. Other responses included a focus on prevention, performance and a focus on the people who deliver and receive services.

The conference “Scottish Government and Public Services: the challenges of more powers and less money” was chaired by Lynda Gauld of Baccus Consulting. For a full list of those who spoke see the MacKay Hannah website.

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