Much has been said by the government and commentators about the pace and scale of reform in the UK's public services, and about the unprecedented levels of investment being channelled into service improvement. The debate is fuelled by the difficulties in measuring the extent of progress since the reform agenda began after the 1997 general election.
People working on the front line of public services speak at length about changes to legislation, regulations, procedures and practice. But what tangible changes are they seeing in delivery terms, and is it anywhere near enough? Are the government's billions of pounds of new investment transforming public services? Can the money and current levels of support be sustained?
This year's CIPFA conference will examine the speed and direction of public services reform. This includes a careful appraisal of the progress of reforms to date, an assessment of ideas for the next stages of the process and, perhaps most importantly, an analysis of four key questions that are fundamental to the future.
Local Government Association vice-chair Sir Sandy Bruce-Lockhart (Con) will offer his views on the question: 'Where should the power lie?', with expert contributions from Work Foundation chief executive Will Hutton and public administration select committee chair Tony Wright. Will they favour tight central co-ordination or more local solutions? What are their views on regional government?
Audit Commission chair James Strachan will lead discussions on 'Public services reform: are we getting it right?', with expert reactions from Improvement & Development Agency execut ive director Lucy de Groot, and former junior health minister Lord Hunt. What will their verdict be on reforms which have spanned
the full spectrum of the public services? Where has most success been achieved and where is there work
still to do?
Warwick Business School industrial relations director Professor Linda Dickens will lead the debate on the third big question: 'Rewards: are we offering the right package?', an increasingly controversial topic. National Association of Pension Funds chief executive Christine Farnish and TUC general secretary Brendan Barber will offer expert responses.
And for the fourth of those key questions, journalist and political commentator Andrew Rawnsley will discuss 'Faith in the system: is there a crisis of trust?', with further insights provided by former MP Martin Bell and National Consumer Council chief executive Ed Mayo.
Both days of the conference will also feature summit presentations to open and close the proceedings. Confederation of British Industry director general Digby Jones and local and regional government minister Nick Raynsford will provide the opening and closing papers on day one, while BBC economics correspondent Evan Davis and Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy will provide the opening and closing chapters of day two.
Delegates will also be able to hear a fringe lecture by Conservative MP Michael Portillo, and participate in a range of workshops on the CIPFA prudential code, improving financial management, public service governance, payment by results in the NHS, international development and leadership and public value.
CIPFA will launch a new fast-track study programme for members of the Association of Accounting Technicians wishing to progress their accountancy career in public services. And CIPFA will also unveil its new financial management model, designed to benchmark strong and effective financial management across the public services.
Running alongside the main conference on Wednesday is a careers conference, 'Taking charge of your career; getting the most from life', aimed at CIPFA students. On Thursday, the Public Management and Policy Association will hold its parallel annual conference, 'Consumer choice: imperative or impediment to excellent public services?'
With 1,000 delegates descending on Brighton this year, CIPFA 2004 promises to be an exciting event.
n 'CIPFA 2004: What next for public services?' will take place at the Hilton Brighton Metropole Hotel from
15-17 June 2004. Further details can be found at
www.cipfaconference.org.uk or e-mail Helen McDonnell: email@example.com