Public Service Reform

Public Service Reform

9th February 2023

Let's work together to blow the dust off the Christie Commission

by George Eckton, Director of Advice Services.

This article was first published in the Herald on 4 February 2022.

In this column I’m going to talk about a report that’s mainly been gathering dust on the shelf for over a decade. The Christie Commission on public service reform. Not because it’s irrelevant, far from it, but that implementing it is so challenging. However, with the pandemic and cost of living crisis catalysing huge digital changes in organisations there is an opportunity to use technology to deliver on the values and principles of Christie if we work together across sectors and policy areas.

Campbell Christie as the report lead author in 2011 envisaged that public service delivery could prevent and intervene early to stop people suffering negative outcomes. Prevention and early intervention have been hallmarks of the Government's policy language around improving the lives of citizens, they have relevance across a wide range of social policies, and as principles are a natural focus for innovation activity and public sector reform.

At the time the original report it was suggested over a third of public spending is delivering services to deal with issues that could have been prevented. Since then demand for public services in Scotland has not diminished but increased in both volume and diversity.

Those of us who work in service delivery often find ourselves in silos and don’t make the most of sharing learning or ideas. We should work together on the fundamental challenges of delivering services to citizens that prioritise prevention. Technology has the potential to empower citizens and help them avoid further problems down the road, across public services delivered by the state or the voluntary sector. It could also enable common solutions to shared challenges and enable faster interventions.

Technology has massively advanced since 2011. If we truly want Scotland to be a wellbeing economy we should not view these costs as bills for future years to pay, but a down payment on preventing problems for citizens getting worse, saving money in the long run.

Here’s an example. The CAB network saves the NHS around £22 million a year. That is because when people go to a CAB and say, have their incomes maximised, they avoid further negative outcomes associated with a lack of income, be that physical health or mental wellbeing.

We can build on this. We are working on a Civtech challenge where we aim to use new technology to analyse our national data to better understand the issues people are seeking help on, so that we can intervene earlier to prevent further negative outcomes.

Christie concluded that the subsequent consequences of late intervention will have high human costs. In this context that can be significant physical and mental harm to citizens but also to frontline staff and volunteers delivering the services and seeing these negative outcomes.

One of the significant asks of the Commission was that outdated attitudes and approaches needed to change, I think tech can facilitate a collective greater sense of action amongst those involved. The pace and scale of technological change means we can and should act faster, and seek common collective solutions. I truly believe technology can blow the dust off the Christie report and deliver the vision it envisioned but it needs us to work together, who’s up for that?