THE next government faces a massive up-hill battle fixing the UKs broken public services, according to a new report from the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR). A post-election government will inherit one of the most challenging contexts of any government since the Second World War. Public services are failing, satisfaction rates are at record lows and waiting lists are soaring.

A toxic combination of rising demand, constrained resources, misguided reform, the Covid-19 pandemic and government cuts have left public services crumbling.

New analysis by IPPR reveals that, even if services start to improve at peak rates previously experienced:

  • It will take nearly 10 years for the NHS to get its waiting lists back down to 2010 levels.
  • It will take until 2033 for court backlogs to reduce to pre-pandemic levels.
  • It will take more than one parliamentary term for secondary schools to get the attainment gap between richer and poorer students back down to levels seen in 2017.

Polling for IPPR reveals the majority of the UK believes many public services are getting worse. But crucially, citizens have not abandoned their belief in state run services, with half of the public willing to pay more tax if the money is spent on things like hospitals.

The post-election government will need a bold package of reforms and spending commitments to break the cycle of despondency and get public services into a state fit for the 21st century.

However, the report states that politicians must move beyond outdated ideas of reforms – based on New Public Management – like targets, choice and competition. Instead, IPPR proposes a new toolkit for reforming public services, moving past arguments about a smaller or larger state and instead looking to create a ‘smarter state’, focused on ‘the Three Ps of public service reform’: prevention, personalisation and productivity.

The report sets out a new blueprint for reforming public services with key policy shifts including:

  • Legislating new missions to make the UK the healthiest country, the safest country, and the country with the best start in life. Each mission would have its own independent body, based on the Climate Change Commission, to hold the government to account.
  • Pivoting public spending to focus on prevention to deliver on missions and build spending that has a long-term social return, such as investment in social care, community policing and childcare.
  • Rolling out new technologies, such as ChatGPT, across the public sector to save an estimated £24 billion a year, with a ‘right to retrain’ for workers whose jobs are impacted.
  • Recruiting, training and retaining public sector workers better so they can improve services and rebuild capacity having lost 900,000 roles in local government in recent years.
  • Making the government the ‘world’s largest learning organisation’ by establishing new improvement organisations and creating a new ‘failure regime’ to support public services in need of improvement.

Harry Quilter-Pinner, director at IPPR, said: “The next government will inherit one of the most challenging contexts of any new government since the Second World War. Public services have been decimated by spending cuts, the pandemic and soaring demand.

“Additional spending will be needed to address this problem. But money alone will not be able to fix the problems in our hospitals, schools and courts. The next government will need an ambitious, long-term, modern reform agenda. This blueprint we set out today forms the building blocks needed for a decade of reform and renewal.”

Leora Cruddas CBE, chief executive of the Confederation of School Trusts said: “This report from IPPR makes an important contribution to the debate about public service reform. The report rightly identifies that the role of the state is to be more strategic. We think the focus on rebuilding the resilience of public services is absolutely right. And the focus on workforce capacity and investment is most welcome. We look forward to a real engagement with, and debate about, the ideas in this report in the coming months in the lead-in to the next general election.”

Penelope Gibbs, director at Transform Justice, said: “IPPR identifies the need to devolve power across the board. Only through devolving power will we make services such as criminal justice focus on what communities need. Through localisation of power and budgets ,a future good government will be able to shift the balance of spending away from prisons, towards community solutions.”

* Read: Great government: Public service reform in the 2020s here.

* Source: Institute for Public Policy Research