Scotland faces a revolution in public service delivery

Friday, February 4, 2022

Written by Ross Laird, Scottish Lib Dems local co-ordinator in Midlothian

Scotland is facing a revolution in the delivery of public services. Our public services are threatened by such a wide range of problems and financial pressures that old delivery models will simply be unaffordable and unworkable. As the Scottish Government’s budget is being approved, it obscures the reality that our health, education and wider services will have to change drastically or face major cuts.

The public sector faces an unprecedented set of challenges. In all areas, there are labor shortages. As in all sectors of the economy, the cost of materials has increased and supply chains have become strained. There is a backlog of investment in new buildings and equipment. And demand for services has soared as critical services have been redeployed to fight Covid-19.

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

This need for reform is urgent. Many organizations are strapped for cash and will need to make drastic cuts just to survive. Funding restrictions imposed on central and local governments are also being felt hard in the third sector, where subsidies are often reduced or frozen. These charities are the lifeblood of our communities and face the same changes and costs as other sectors.

Scotland needs to radically reform the way it delivers and invests in public services to cope with these changing times. The current government’s solution was simply to centralize services. Such reform removes local public accountability and undermines our communities. Too often, institutions stray too far from the communities they serve. Instead, we must invest in our communities and ensure that the services we provide meet local needs.

The future of our public and community services is bright, but we must be proactive in redesigning them and ensuring that they put the needs of individuals and communities first. Our future learners will expect both online and personal educational support. Our community centers will need to offer a wide range of facilities that can adapt to meet the needs of hybrid working. Community libraries and sports centers need investments to meet new demands. Health services need to be reviewed to ensure non-emergency essential services can be provided locally.

Now is the time for communities and organizations to come together and decide what kind of services we need for the future. We need to recognize that working models have changed and that digital technology will play a key role. Services must be tailored to local communities and offer the flexibility of modern workplaces. By acting now, we can reshape our public sector to meet the financial reality of today and the digital demands of tomorrow.


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