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TOGETHER WE SHINE - PARTNERSHIPS

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Public sector inefficiency is costing us teachers, and business has the answer. Rod Aldridge, executive chairman, C...
Public sector inefficiency is costing us teachers, and business has the answer. Rod Aldridge, executive chairman, Capita Group, offers a private sector view of partnership.

An additional teacher could be appointed to nearly every state school in the country without one extra penny being spent by local or central government.

This is not some pipe dream. It is a conservative estimate of the financial benefits of modernising council business support services. There would be significant improvements in service performance and customer access.

The cost of these additional teachers equates to less than 15% of local government's expenditure on support and administrative services. It would be possible to achieve savings of this order while transforming the customers' experience of dealing with councils.

Best value will improve public services, but will not, on its own, lead to service transformation, even if every council applied it rigorously and comprehensively. Best value can be a powerful engine for change but it will need to be accompanied by the application of modern technology and new ways of working.

The public deserves a very different experience of public services to that traditionally available. The individual service user should not be concerned about which agency provides which service, but be able to access high quality services when they want them.

It is no longer acceptable to expect the public to tolerate a second-class service simply because it is delivered by the public sector. These services should be affordable both for the collective community and for the individual.

A step change in services will require major re-engineering, which requires new management approaches, more flexible employment arrangements and significant investment in information and communication technology. These changes can be best achieved through public/private partnerships.

The private sector partner offers much for the development of services, including capital investment, expertise, risk transfer and clear accountability.

It is essential the private sector is not solely associated with intervention to

tackle underperformance in the public sector. Public/private partnerships need to be fostered as the normal means of service delivery. This requires political will at a national and a local level.

It requires the private sector to demonstrate a commitment to public services. All parties have to adopt an approach based on mutual respect and shared commitment to succeed.

The Local Government Association with its 'Fast Forward' initiative has rightly shifted its focus to what people will expect from local governance and public services in the future.

Meanwhile the Improvement and Development Agency is driving a best value inspired improvement policy across councils. In this context, the new national partnership agreement Capita has signed with the LGA and IDeA may be the catalyst for a step change not only in education, but throughout local government.

The key to unlocking this new phase of innovation will be the establishment of regional business centres for local government. Capita has already developed several regional and sub-regional business centres from which we will deliver a range of services, including human resources, information communication technology, tax collection and benefit payment, and financial services.

These could be available to councils, the NHS, schools, universities, colleges and other public agencies as well as the private sector, thus achieving economies of scale and further reducing costs.

It is possible using modern technology to build effective front-line service access points that link to the business centres and ensure a customised local service for the customer.

Services can be delivered with a balance of centrally based staff and technology, and others placed closer physically to the customer. One-stop shops, home visiting staff and other locally based specialists will remain critical to successful service delivery.

These centres can incorporate a customer contact facility allowing customers to access services via telephone, e-mail, mobile and interactive TV. They have the potential to provide 24/7 access.

We have already established the first all-council multi-channel customer information centre for Hertfordshire CC - Herts Connect.

National services such as NHS Direct and Care Direct are candidates for provision through similar public/ private partnerships. The NHS, Inland Revenue, Customs & Excise, Benefits Agency and other public services could link together to provide one-stop services through regional contact centres.

Local government spends more than£3000m on administration every year. For local government alone the savings could be in excess of£500m. There can be no excuse for failing to explore new processes that will lead to improved services and extra resources for investing in front-line services. The savings generated could employ an additional 20,000 teachers. All that is required is the will and imagination to make it happen.

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