Scottish public services ‘resisting change’

PUBLIC-sector bodies such as councils and NHS boards are resisting change due to a “risk-averse” culture in which staff who “fear failure” prefer to “hide behind barriers”, a damning Holyrood report has found.

A report compiled by MSPs claims that public sector bodies are resisting change. Picture: PA

• MSP report claims that public sector bodies are resisting reforms

• Community Planning Partnerships singled out for criticism

Sign up to our Politics newsletter

Sign up to our Politics newsletter

• “Too many of those engaged in public services reform are risk averse,” says report

The Scottish Parliament’s local government committee, which has led a lengthy inquiry on public-sector reform, declares itself “disappointed” by what it describes as a “systematic lack of appetite for change” across the public sector.

Examples where public bodies were working effectively together and with local people were “rare” and “far outweighed” by cases of public-sector staff who were actively resistant to any change in their jobs. Public-sector workers did not feel “empowered” or able to “innovate”, the report adds.

It reserves particular criticism for the failure of community planning partnerships (CPPs), which were intended to bring public-sector bodies together, but which have barely made any difference at all.

This, it concludes, “has meant little real improvement in services or prospects for some of Scotland’s most disadvantaged communities”.

The report prompted a furious response from local government groups last night, which accused the MSPs on the committee of having made up their minds before hearing evidence.

They claim weaknesses in the system – also exposed by a Audit Scotland report – are being rectified across the country.

Meanwhile, local government sources said they believed the SNP-dominated committee was deliberately attempting to undermine local government as part of a turf war with central government.

SNP convener Kevin Stewart MSP said: “During the course of our inquiry, we have seen examples of different public services working together, working with the community and working to achieve change. However, these examples are rare and far outweighed by those who are resistant to making change and resistant to working together to bring real change into the hearts of communities across Scotland. There is a big gap between rhetoric and reality.”

The report concludes that reform is “not happening at the rate or scale that is needed or desired”. It also finds that there is “no discernible pattern” to the changes and that success “seems patchy at best”.

It adds: “Deep-seated attitudes and behaviours lead many staff to hide behind barriers that are hindering progress. It was clear to the committee that too many of those engaged in public services reform are risk-averse, fearing failure, with staff not empowered or able to innovate.”

However, a spokesman for the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities said: “Our reaction is one of frustration. It was absolutely clear to those who gave evidence that this committee had made up its mind about what they were going to say and how they reacted to the evidence before they even heard it.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “While there is a tremendous amount of positive change happening at the local level, we agree that best practice from around the country needs to be replicated more quickly and on a greater scale.”