Researchers to put changing public services under the microscope

Public services are to be put under the microscope in ESRC-funded research aimed at understanding the key ongoing problems involved in providing essential facilities such as health and education, as opposed to 'currently fashionable pre-occupations'.

Recent years have seen major changes in public services attempted or called for at national and local level, and in the different countries of the UK, with dramatic claims and counter-claims made about the long-term effects.

The 'Public Services' programme, launched on January 14, at the British Academy in London, will run for five years. Its Director is Christopher Hood, of the University of Oxford.

It will examine, in particular, costly and complex services such as healthcare and education. And it will have three inter-linked themes: quality - covering transparency, targets, trust and responsiveness; performance - including rewards, incentives, blame and liability; and delivery - including measurement of performance, management and innovation.

Old divisions between 'public' and 'private' provision have shifted in a number of areas and may well continue to do so.

There are now new ways of delivering services, and of monitoring and evaluating them, along with policy and legal developments over issues such as equality, transparency and human rights.

Some changes have come from practices in the private sector, but have had to adapt to the different political and institutional way in which public services operate.

Christopher Hood, said: "As well as talking to those directly involved in providing and using public services, there is also now a wealth of experience of performance indicators, targets and pay systems, and of public-private partnerships for us to examine.

"We aim to use good, scientific analytical research to get a clear feel for the realities rather than popular pre-conceptions about complex systems, the unintended effects of policy decisions,

Contact: Becky Gammon
Economic & Social Research Council

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