There should be a comprehensive redefinition of the relationship between government, charities and the public over the delivery of public services, according to a new report commissioned by the charity chief executives body Acevo.
The report, called Remaking the State and produced by Acevo’s Commission on Delivering Better Public Services, says the delivery of public services is too often misguided and inappropriate, and greater focus on preventive policies is required.
The commission, which is jointly chaired by the author, economic commentator and journalist Will Hutton and Rob Owen, chief executive of the St Giles Trust, found that the existing emphasis on short-term targets obscures the need to deliver cost-effective public services to the people who need them most.
The report makes three main proposals for reform. First, a "public service constitution" that would allow groups of people who feel they have been failed collectively by a public service to take out a "super-complaint" against policymakers or service providers.
Second, allocating 5 per cent of government spending to preventive public services, with the aim of gradually increasing this to 10 per cent by 2020. And, third, creating a community-first test for major commissioning projects in those departments that deal with services affecting vulnerable people. The report says this would ensure "that the meaningful improvement of people’s lives is placed above considerations of price".
The report also recommends that "monolithic" services, such as the Work Programme, be broken up.
The Acevo commission argues that cuts of up to 45 per cent to preventive services over the past five years have been "profoundly misguided".
It says savings from preventive services often involve higher public expenditure in later years, and therefore require investment if public spending is to be lowered.
Hutton and Owen said in a joint statement: "We believed and still believe in the values and aspirations of the big society, in which strong civic and social institutions take their place alongside traditionally funded public services to deliver care and quality that deliver great long-term value, rather than cheap, poor, mirror-image services that have sadly failed in the past.
"We believe that the real solutions proposed in our report can form the foundations for a new social contract which represents the original aspirations of the big society."
Acevo said it would be dedicating a tranche of future research to how prevention could yield further savings across public services.
Sir Stephen Bubb, chief executive of Acevo, said: "Public services are no longer always working in the best interests of the people. Too often, government prioritises keeping the books balanced over working to improve the lives of the people whom they serve. This is simply not a tenable situation to carry forward. Instead, major changes are needed. This report contains such reforms, and I welcome these."
Bubb said the commission’s three recommendations represented "a roadmap for the future of public services".