Public bodies “resistant” to change
The Local Government and Regeneration Committee today released their report into the subject, following an inquiry which spanned 16 months.
While recognising public service reform is an ongoing process, the committee was disappointed by the patchy progress and a systemic lack of appetite for change amongst stakeholders, many of whom lack the ‘can-do’ attitude needed to drive reform.
However, president of Scotland’s council umbrella body, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA), David O’Neill said he was extremely disappointed the committee failed to either come up with or even get behind any real moves for change. He claimed the report was both a “damp squib” and perhaps worse, a real missed opportunity.
The report found public services reform is not happening at the rate or scale that is needed or desired, or in a consistent way. It also stated that there is no discernible pattern in the delivery of public service reform or improvements to services and although the committee was told that activity was everywhere, success seems inconstant at best. The committee considers many community planning partnerships are not delivering.
The report also said deep seated attitudes and behaviours lead many staff to perceive and hide behind barriers that are hindering progress.
Committee convener Kevin Stewart said: “During the course of our inquiry, we have seen examples of different public services working together, working with the community and working to achieve change. However, these examples are rare and far outweighed by those who are resistant to making change and resistant to working together to bring real change into the hearts of communities across Scotland. There is a big gap between rhetoric and reality.
“It is clear to us that change works best when it starts with communities and when public services listen to what these have to say. But too often people living and working in communities are ignored and when they are consulted, they are not listened to.
“Far too many excuses are put in the way of action and the speed, scale and nature of the change within public services is simply not adequate.”
As part of the inquiry the committee met with representatives from community organisations across Scotland and heard that there was little evidence of public services listening to the communities in which they operate and working with them to promote change.
In response to the report, O’Neill said he was extremely disappointed with the very unhelpful level of spin put on the committee’s report. He added: “It makes me wonder whether there is any real point in giving evidence to this committee.
“To say that there is a systematic lack of appetite for change across the public sector is blatantly wrong and deliberately misleading.
“Anyone who left local government even as recently as 2007 would not recognise it today.
“We more than anyone recognise that we need to change to provide essential services to vulnerable individuals and communities in very changed circumstances. The bottom line is that we are changing and anyone who fails to see that either does not want to or is very out of touch.
“There is little doubt in my mind that this committee had made up its mind as to what it was going to say on the pace of public sector reform prior to taking evidence and that there was no real consideration of the evidence given. Surely at the very least a parliamentary committee should have some responsibility to listen to the people giving evidence.”
He added that to suggest councils and council leaders are resistant to change is “simply not true” and to think that there is one silver bullet that will change things overnight is “over simplistic and clearly demonstrates that some of those on this committee have no idea whatsoever of the complexities involved”.