The trust society: squaring the public service delivery circle?

There’s inevitably more time for reflection during the
summer months, as people go on leave and take time out to review where things
have got to, organisationally and personally. One thing that’s come up in many
conversations for me is the challenge ahead given the inevitable cuts in public
spending (regardless of which party is in government), but the continuing (or
increasing) need to deliver services that reduce inequality and address social
problems and needs. This is particularly interesting in the context of the
Conservatives, given their clear support for localism and grassroots-led
change by individual social entrepreneurs and their wish to reduce the size of
the state and its associated bureaucracy.

Currently, this wish to reduce the size of the state (or,
more simply, to reduce costs) has tended to lead to bigger contracts, bigger
providers and a return to a simpler, output-based model (this much money in,
these outputs out) that may be less nuanced than is currently the case through
necessity. This is as true of the current government as it might be of a future
Tory one (see the consortia being created around the Future Jobs Fund, for
example) and, if you put yourself in those shoes, is pretty understandable and

But, of course, the local, grassroots social
entrepreneur-led organisation may struggle in this context. Diversity, reach
and multiple outcomes will still figure, but will power and money go upward
into bigger contracts that are inaccessible? Or will there be enough devolution
and freedom at local, regional or sub-regional level to work with new
innovators and approaches that may change things for the better?

It’s an issue that we wrote about in Social Entrepreneurs
and Public Service Delivery
(pdf download), and one that is becoming more and more
critical as time goes on, and the current outlook for public spending becomes
bleaker. So is there a way of encouraging and fostering more grassroots social
entrepreneurial activity, with new sustainable and bespoke solutions, whilst
also increasing value for money? The answer is yes, but may require a shift
from a trust-based to a contract-based society, and that shift may take much
longer than the current climate will take to clear. But the broader point is
worth raising now.

A recent provocation paper by SSE Chair Charlotte Young discusses the differences between a trust-based and a contract-based society and, more pertinently in this context, the potential roles for the social entrepreneur as initiators, intermediaries and role models & people developers. For those trying to square the circles in the public service delivery space, it's essential reading.

– Read Can Social Entrepreneurs Make This  A Better Society? (pdf)  on the SSE website.

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