Scotland is facing a revolution in the delivery of public services

Friday February 4th 2022

Ross Laird Lib Dems GE17

Written by Ross Laird, local coordinator for the Scottish Lib Dems in Midlothian

Scotland is facing a revolution in the delivery of public services. Our public services are under threat from such a wide range of issues and financial pressures that old models of delivery will be simply unaffordable and unachievable. While the Scottish Government’s budget is being approved, it is masking the reality that our health, education and wider services will have to radically change or face significant cuts.

The public sector is facing an unprecedented range of issues. Across the board there are labour shortages. Like all sectors of the economy, the cost of materials has gone up and supply chains have become strained. There is a backlog in investment in new buildings and equipment. And the demand for services has spiralled as critical services have been redeployed to fight Covid-19.

There are also societal changes to factor in. Many of us are still working from home and hybrid working models are likely to be here to stay. We have adapted well to new ways of doing things – from telephone GP appointments to online learning and work – technology adoption has been revolutionary. And while the immediate impact has been seen in sectors such as retail and hospitality, the shock-waves are about to hit the public sector too.

There’s an urgency to this need for reform. Many organisations are cash-strapped and will need to make deep cuts to simply survive. The funding restrictions on central and local government are also being acutely felt in the third sector, where grants are often being cut or frozen. These charities are the lifeblood of our communities and are facing the same changes and costs as other sectors.

Scotland needs to radically reform the way it delivers and invests in public services to meet these changing times. The solution of the current government has been simply to centralise services. Such reform removes local public accountability and undermines our communities. All too often institutions become too distant from the communities they serve. Instead, we need to invest in our communities and ensure that the services we provide meet local needs.

There’s an exciting future for our public and community services but we need to be proactive in their redesign and ensure that they put the needs of individuals and communities first. Our future learners will expect both online and personal educational support. Our community centres will need to offer a wide range of facilities that can flex to meet the needs of hybrid working. Community libraries and sports centres need investment to meet new demands. Health services need to be looked at afresh to ensure that critical non-emergency services can be delivered locally.

Now is the time for communities and organisations to come together and decide what kind of services we need for the future. We need to recognise that work patterns have changed and that digital technology will play a critical role. Services need to be tailored to local communities and offer the flexibility of modern workplaces. By taking action now we can reshape our public sector to meet today’s financial reality and tomorrow’s digital demands.

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