Having had the chance to read and digest yesterday’s release of the Christie Commission report, it seems a useful contribution the scale of the future demand for public services but shies badly away from positing real solutions. Statistics quoted for the next 5 (& 15) years make for alarming reading:
- additional demands on health, social care and justice of more than £9 bn (£27 bn) (National Endowment for Science, Technology & the Arts)
- the care budget of approximately £4.5 billion will need to increase by £1.1 bn (£3.5 bn) (Scottish Government)
- if local government services remain as currently configured, a gap of over £3 bn (£9 bn) will arise between demand and available resources Over half of this gap is driven by demand growth. (Strategic Funding Review Group)
Social, as well as financial statistics also make for uncomfortable reading. In the 12 years since devolution, the Scottish Budget has doubled from £16 bn to over £32 bn. Yet many shameful inequality gaps have widened:
- income of the 30% of our population with the highest incomes, has increased while the 30% with the lowest has been static.
- In education, the gap between the bottom 20% and the average in learning outcomes has not changed at all
- the gap in healthy life expectancy between the 20% most deprived and the 20% least deprived areas has increased from 8 to 13.5 years
- percentage of life lived with poor health has increased from 12 to 15%.
- link between deprivation and being a victim of crime is stronger.
The report sensibly states “Until now we have funded that ‘failure demand’ with annually increasing budgets. That is no longer an option.” However, it falls back into pious rectitude in seeking action: “So tackling fundamental inequalities has to be a key objective of public service reform.“
In the next two decades, the number of people aged 60 and over will increase by 50%; numbers aged 75 and over by 84%. These trends affect public expenditure demand, not least because many universal entitlements (e.g. public sector pensions and concessionary travel) are triggered by age criteria alone, irrespective of income or health status.
Their responses to these challenges show the familiar social concerns of the Scottish public sector, couched in language echoed in virtually any statement from Holyrood concerning social policy from any period over the last 12 years:
- “taking demand out of the system through preventative actions and early intervention to tackle the root causes of inequality and negative outcomes
- “working more closely with individuals and communities to understand their needs and mobilise a wider range of Scotland’s talents and assets in response to these needs, and to support self- reliance and community resilience
- “tackling fragmentation and complexity in the design and delivery of public services by improving coherence and collaboration between agencies and sectors
- “improving transparency, challenge and accountability to bring a stronger focus on value for money and achieving positive outcomes for individuals and communities”
Wow—more motherhood than Mother’s Day and apple pie with cream on top. Laudable though all that is, we didn’t need a commission to tell us that. What is actually needed are some concrete proposals how we reconfigure the smug £20+bn-guzzling monolith that is our public sector. It’s like the joke of the balloonist who lands in a tree and asks a passing walker where he is. “You’re in a tree” comes the answer. To which the balloonist observes “ you must be a public service analyst; the information your gave me is absolutely true, yet totally useless”.