The invitation by the First Minister to Chair a Commission into the future delivery of public services in Scotland was one I was delighted to accept. Public services are important to us all but are of particular importance in protecting the vulnerable and disadvantaged in our society. They are central to achieving the fair and just society to which we aspire. They are also crucial in helping many to achieve the skills they need to be part of the labour market - and thus are vitally important to improving our economic performance.
However, our public services are now facing their most serious challenges since the inception of the welfare state. The demand for public services is set to increase dramatically over the medium term - partly because of demographic changes, but also because of our failure up to now to tackle the causes of disadvantage and vulnerability, with the result that huge sums have to be expended dealing with their consequences.
This rising demand for public services will take place in an environment of constrained public spending. In the absence of a willingness to raise new revenue through taxation, public services will have to 'achieve more with less'.
Reforming the delivery of these services is not only a matter of fiscal necessity. We also have to implement reforms that improve the quality of public services to better meet the needs of the people and the communities they seek to support.
If we are to have effective and sustainable public services capable of meeting the challenges ahead, the reform process must begin now. The principles informing this process are clear:
- Reforms must aim to empower individuals and communities receiving public services by involving them in the design and delivery of the services they use.
- Public service providers must be required to work much more closely in partnership, to integrate service provision and thus improve the outcomes they achieve.
- We must prioritise expenditure on public services which prevent negative outcomes from arising.
- And our whole system of public services - public, third and private sectors - must become more efficient by reducing duplication and sharing services wherever possible.
Experience tells us that all institutions and structures resist change, especially radical change. However, the scale of the challenges ahead is such that a comprehensive public service reform process must now be initiated, involving all stakeholders.
A range of consultations and reviews are already underway covering particular public services. The analysis and recommendations in this Report should now be used to determine the next steps in each of these areas.
Ultimate responsibility for reform rests, however, with the Scottish Government.
I urge them to act quickly and decisively - as a society we no longer have time for delay. I believe the way forward is clear, and it is now essential that the Scottish Government exercises its leadership by initiating a fundamental public service reform process.
DR CAMPBELL CHRISTIE CBE