— Judicial Office (@JudiciaryUK) October 31, 2017
Thanks to our regular contributor Looked After Child for her thought provoking comment about policies and who pays, following the President’s recent speech. Fragmentation of services is causing increasing harm and inefficiency. Whatever your view of the market, don’t we still need good governance?
This post takes as its starting point Sir James Mumby, President of the Family Division’s speech on 30 October 2017:- Children Across the Justice Systems, The 2017 Parmoor Lecture
Sir James discusses seven serious problems preventing the courts working effectively to make the best decisions possible for children when called upon to do so. This post focuses on the fifth identified problem – The division of responsibilities across Whitehall between different Departments and Ministers in matters affecting families and children
Thanks to the Howard League for Penal Reform for organising this lecture series as part of its wide ranging, essential work with and for children in the Secure Estate.
Magic Money Tree
There is no ‘magic money tree’ apparently. Even with my very superficial acquaintance with economics I’m not sure economics students would entirely agree with that statement (Remember Quantitative Easing and Keynesian economics?) but let’s take it at face value.
There is no magic money tree so we have to figure out how to use the resources we have to best effect. Our government and the Treasury seems to think this entails Government Departments giving ever smaller, sometimes one-off, pots of money to agencies and organisations with the mantra ‘Spend it well and show how spending this money will save money in other areas that our Department has responsibility for’.
No one is really sure who should be prioritised when it comes to spending money – should it be the most in-need or the most powerful or the most important to policymakers if they are to retain their policy-making powers or…?
There are a number of advantages and disadvantages of this approach.
What are the advantages of this approach to policymakers?
We end up with a small government with a policy-making role in the main. Agencies can go out to a market of ‘providers’ with their pot of money and buy in the services they need showing ‘best value’. They compete with each other for services and using various mechanisms the Government creates the environment where the market is encouraged to flourish. People with money can buy in their own services if they choose to so reducing the burden on the taxpayer.
Policymakers can make policy without having responsibility for delivery so policy can in itself ‘have a kind face’. Charities can be included as ‘suppliers of services’ so the market has as wide a supplier base as possible. Peer-to-peer learning can be encouraged as can self-certification so we need few expensive ‘compliance checkers’ – Health and Safety Officers, Building Control Officers, School Inspectors etc. Where these are needed then whoever has need of the service should pay so where possible even compliance checking contracts can be marketed and have revenue generating potential.
What are the disadvantages of this approach to everyone?
I have a son with vulnerabilities so it matters to me more than most that because of these policies people in need are in many cases being left behind often in dreadful circumstances. The vulnerable including children are also often painted as the agents of their own misfortunes to justify the inhumanity that those that need services are often treated with. Many have rights, enshrined from a kinder age, that are seen as optional extras or something that unfunded charities, such as the Howard League for Penal Reform, should meet.
Good health of the market becomes the driver for policy. Regulation is seen as a ‘drag on the market’, just ‘red tape’. The Grenfell Tower fire is likely to show where this can ultimately lead – hollowed out enforcement services for out-of-date regulations. Self-certification that ticked a box but did’ent meet a need. It is also worth pointing out that 18- year old building apprentices would still be shoveling asbestos if left to the construction industry to figure out what it should be doing in response to the extreme dangers posed by asbestos fibres. The market clearly needs direction and regulation and government has a role beyond that of ensuring the health of the market. It has a role in ensuring the health of the people and of communities. It has a role in ensuring we live in a just and fair society.
There are also issues of sustainability. As a country we own less year-on-year in terms of our national assets and we often have no real idea of who is actually carrying out contracted-out services, how well they are trained, what they are doing at a ‘fine grain level’ and what the implications are for our ‘tax take’ or the loss to individual communities in terms of employment security and nett wealth of individuals within those communities. Surely this cannot be sustainable long term?
There is also a danger of disconnect of policymakers from policy delivery. ‘Teflon coated’ policymakers may point to one or two good things happening somewhere in their particular area of influence and then say ‘our policy is working’ even though it is clear that there is systemic failures of whatever kind – around fragmentation, resources being used to address complexity rather than meeting need, underfunding, gaps in provision, inadequate data collection, analysis and reporting as just some examples. At what point does this become unethical misdirection, eroding belief in Government itself?
Fragmentation is highly inefficient if not unworkable. Take one example – our son’s school is in one LA, his doctor another, we live in a third. He needed specialist medical support in a fourth, was discharged from the hospital to a fifth so who is responsible for the package of social care support that he needs, particularly if our LA was not even aware that he had difficulties? If that were not crazy enough geographic footprints for LAs do not match geographic footprints for clinical commissioning groups for healthcare.
Footprints for specialist services may be at semi-regional level, footprints for other services at a local level. All are so busy looking after their own budgets that there is a disconnect between “making sure you can justify spending the money from this budget” with “what needs to happen to provide an effective service?” It is hard to explain how byzantine this is to negotiate on the ground and no-one seems to be logging un-met need just tightening the criteria to access their service. We are encouraged to accept injustice on the grounds of pragmatism. ”There is no magic money tree”.
I don’t believe in markets in the ways policymakers seem to. You can have any number of people employed trying to procure services but if you have no service providers there is no service but there is still a cost. Suppliers cherry pick lucrative work and have no values other than to make profit. I have no idea why anyone would think it could be otherwise when dealing in a marketplace.
What needs to change?
The service landscape resembles nothing as much as the parish council system of the 1840’s before the great reforms of public health and services that gathered momentum in the 1950’s. I for one never signed up for this.
If indeed there is no magic money tree then we need consensus on how we prioritise where we spend money. The views of people who have need of services should be central to that debate. Should we be locking children up if they are less safe in our prisons than in their community? Should we be taking children into Care when we are now seeing grandmothers who were in Care lose their grandchildren to the Care system and we don’t know why? What kind of society are we? Do we choose to blame, punish or help those who need services? If we help, do we only do so in a punitive way to deter people from asking for help? How much help is enough and how should that help be provided? Policymakers may not like some of the answers to these questions but they really have to engage – that is the job of Government.
Government Departments need to change from being provider focussed to service user led.
If you need a school or children’s services’ input into your (child’s) care, the Department for Education currently has responsibility for putting in place polices for delivery of education and for children’s social care. They do not control all policies relating to children including when children get health support or if they go to prison. The policies that apply and costs associated come from different Department’s budgets. There are bizarre situations where the Department for Culture, Media and Sport for example have responsibility for Drug and Alcohol courts (possibly because gaming can lead to addiction???).
The territorial nature of Departmental remits matters to us all because we need our services to work seamlessly. Instead Departments each look to different experts to give direction on policy, have different initiatives that run over different timescales, different cultures (imagine how co-production of services now widely promoted by the Department of Health would impact the Care system?) and each work largely in silos.
I think Departments might be better defined by user groups – Department for Families, Department for the Third Age etc so that each department knows who they are delivering services for and produce coordinated policy for their user group. As an example a new Department for Families could have as its focus health, education, care and justice for children/young people, parenting support where needed, poverty reduction, secure housing for families.
What happens if we keep going as we are?
It isn’t working on so many levels that many people just want a ‘reset button’. Brexit is a symptom of this.
Talk about ‘the magic money tree’ should not blind people to the fact that we need good government. It is essential particularly when money is tight. Bad government has consequences for us all and these consequences are sometimes neither foreseeable nor controllable. Good governance is in all our interests.