Focusing on The Future of Public Services
In 2010-2012 the Society Programme will be focusing on public services. The Programme will address three questions. What kind of institutions will deliver them in the future? What will the means of the delivery be? How will they be funded?
Currently public services are mostly delivered by publicly owned institutions, such as local councils. They are delivered through public institutions and run by civil servants. Funding comes mainly from taxes, and to a small extent from the users themselves. It is likely however that this will change. Privately owned and run businesses will increasingly deliver these services in the future. They will be funded through a mix of revenue streams such as taxes, service users and philanthropy.
The future of public services programme will be delivered through such outputs as seminars, conferences, public speeches and reports. The outcome of this programme will be increased awareness of this issue, and its potential solutions, amongst policy makers and politicians in Finland, UK and Ireland. Another outcome will be increased non-governmental and governmental co-operation, and enlarged network, on this area of work between UK and Finland and Ireland and Finland.
The effects of the financial crisis that began in 2008 have highlighted the question of the delivery of public services lately. This crisis has pushed public economies to a point where they are more in debt than they have been for a long time. High unemployment figures combined with related social problems are adding to the stress. Public borrowing is extremely high and many countries are already thinking of ways to decrease public spending and reduce debts. Increasingly smaller available resources combined with greater needs is forcing many countries, municipalities and boroughs to the drawing board with a hard equation to solve: how to distribute less than ever to more than ever?
Values and principles
While public resources are scarce, we are still hanging on to a set of values that we still find dear. These are the values of equitable availability of services to all and basic rights such the right to work. The public's reactions to the MP's expenses scandal in the UK and the election finances scandal in Finland highlight the need for more transparency in the use of public money and better control of the ways that it is spent. There is also a higher interest towards moral responsibility of our business communities and their practices. The financial crisis has also enforced many middle-class people's desire to derive deeper personal satisfaction from their work. People feel that desiring more goods and satisfying those desires is neither environmentally or socially sustainable as a way of life.
The discussion we promote on public services will take into account the following principles, some of which are partly old and familiar and partly new:
- Services need to be available to all independently of socio-economic background. This condition is derived from the same moral commitment that upholds the welfare state.
- The transaction of service purchases from a possible third party must not significantly diminish the resources available to the community.
- The quality of service should be the same to all.
- The service delivery must be transparent in terms of its finance, practices and governance.
- The service design should involve the end user and the quality of the service should be subject to continuous improvement according to the needs of the user.
The Society Programme will be focusing on finding solutions to the issues raised above from at least these two directions. The first is the emergence of social businesses. These businesses are providing a way to empower communities by means of trade and thus support sustainable solutions to service delivery. Social businesses can broadly be divided into two categories: ones that trade and use the profits to fund public good; and ones that directly deliver public good. Some businesses obviously do both.
The second is related to finances. There is an emerging area of social finance that includes such phenomena as peer-to-peer lending, various forms of micro-finance, and philanthropic ways of funding social businesses. These new ways to think about funding businesses also allows us to think about how service users themselves could be a part of the businesses whose services they are using. Could social finance point to new ways of distributing resources and help us to secure essential services to all?
The programme will deliver two outcomes. One will be increased awareness amongst policy makers, NGO activists and other experts about various components of public services delivery. These components include public value, business models and values behind these solutions. This outcome will be measured with stakeholder surveys, report downloads and attendance in our events.
The second outcome will be improved non-governmental and governmental networks between UK and Finland and Ireland and Finland. This will be measured by take-up of our events but also by increase in numbers of contacts in our database.