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Government missing a trick on public service reform

11 January 2005

The Government is missing a trick in its attempts to modernise public services, according to a report published today (Tuesday 11 January 2005) by the Sustainable Development Commission (SDC). While welcoming the notion of modernisation, SDC claims that not enough attention is paid to the environment, social justice and real quality of life, and more must be done ensure long-term improvements to public services and real benefits to taxpayers.

Sharing the Value - A Sustainable Approach to the Modernisation Agenda argues that Labour's modernisation agenda should be driven by the principles of sustainable development. This would result in:

- Real improvements to public services

- Greater value for money over the short and long term

- Real choice for consumers through an emphasis on personal responsibility and active citizenship

- A better balance between economic, environmental and social benefits, rather than crude trade-offs

- Enhanced local governance, avoiding the extremes of the 'local versus central debate'

- Increased innovation and creativity in policy design and service delivery

SDC Chairman Jonathon Porritt said: 'Sustainable development provides a coherent framework, a balance between short- and long-term goals, a focus on anticipating and preventing problems, and pioneering methods of community participation. These are all currently lacking in the modernisation agenda. By bringing modernisation and sustainable development together, their combined impact will be significant. The value of that will be shared between taxpayers, users and staff of public services, local communities, the business community and future generations. We can see isolated examples of far-sighted local authorities and regional bodies already taking this approach, but they are the exception, not the rule.'

Sharing the Value, which includes specific policy suggestions for Government, goes on to argue that both modernisation and sustainable development can be moved forward significantly by integrating the two: 'Modernisation without sustainable development is a recipe for short-term gains but long-term waste, frustration and contradiction. Sustainable development without the leverage and resources of the modernisation agenda will remain marginal in most public services' Neither programme is achieving its full potential, and we contend that neither can do so unless and until it is integrated with the other'.

To download a copy of Sharing the Value, visit www.sd-commission.org.uk

Editors notes:

- The Sustainable Development Commission is the independent Government advisor on sustainable development, reporting to Tony Blair and the devolved administration leaders. The Commission's objectives include advocating a compelling vision of a sustainable economy and society, and reviewing how far sustainable development is being achieved in the UK across all sectors.

- Sustainable development provides a framework for redirecting our economies to enable everyone to meet their basic needs and improve their quality of life while ensuring that the natural resources on which they depend are maintained and enhanced, both for their benefit and for that of future generations.

- The modernisation agenda seeks to put citizens and users of public services - rather than providers of special interests - at the heart of public policy. It embraces many ideas and programmes: customer focus, efficiency gains, enhanced local government, accountability for professionals, application of new technologies and management techniques in public service, and 'civic renewal?

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