Test 18 January, 2017

The state of public-service commissioning: Meg Hillier MP

As the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, my role is to make sure the Committee is effective at challenging departments on whether they are getting value for money for the taxpayer.

I am delighted Reform has researched and analysed the changing and varied ways government is choosing to deliver public services. In a time of restricted resources in the public sector, innovation and transformation can be welcome approaches to address the problems of doing more with less. But it is vital that service users remain at the centre of public services, and new solutions require additional scrutiny to safeguard value for money.

The Government creates huge challenges for itself by transforming so many services at once. The Ministry of Justice is changing the ways it delivers rehabilitation, probation, court interpreters and legal aid as well as reforming the prison estate and court buildings.

The NHS has been restructured and reformed, and has now hit a financial crisis point. Local health economies are encouraged to find innovative ways to deliver services, such as commissioning in ever complex arrangements. But public servants can lack the commercial skills needed to make sound contractual deals that are cost-effective and deliver high-quality services, as we saw recently with the short-lived disastrous UnitingCare Partnership in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.

Devolution creates all manner of opportunities for local communities to enable those with the best local knowledge to create more responsive, efficient local services. But the Government is negotiating each deal individually and those at the centre of government have too often appeared before the Committee unsure and unclear about who is responsible for what expenditure within new structures such as City Deals. It is crucial that accountability and transparency are not lost with devolved powers.

Our work in the Public Accounts Committee remains one of the most important platforms for Parliament’s role in holding the executive to account. We also need the work of think tanks and academics to provide robust analysis and offer external challenge to government.

I am sure you will find this paper as insightful and interesting as I have, and I hope the Government takes note.