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Co-production Around the World

The Co-Production Journey in Scotland

This new blog series highlights the current state of play of user and community co-production in public services. We will tell you who the movers and shakers are, identify cutting-edge innovations and showcase international best practice for your organisation to learn from. Join the debate and add your comments! This blog will be visiting your country soon...

© Nize Nicolai Schäfer

Like many other European countries, Scotland faces a significant increase in service demand during a time of demographic change and sustained decline in financial resources. In response the Scottish government has developed policies which specifically promote and fund co-production approaches in public services. 

Sir Harry Burns, Chief Medical Officer for Scotland, has been highly influential in promoting this direction of travel through his championing of an assets-based approach to planning and delivering health and wellbeing. His vision was reinforced by the publication of the Christie Commission Report on the Future of Delivery of Public Services in June 2011. This highly influential report argues that it is ensure that our public services are built around people and communities, their needs, aspirations, capacities and skills, and work to build up their authority and resilience.

The Scottish Government has recognised this challenge and together with the Confederation of Scottish Local Authorities (CoSLA) and other stakeholders, has developed a 10 year change programme for Reshaping Care for Older People, which promotes the development of co-production and community capacity building as key elements of public service transformation. Most importantly, the Scottish Government has invested to support the transformational change required by creating a four year older people's services Change Fund of £300 million in order to drive the necessary shift in service models and organisational cultures. Government funding has also been made available to adopt co-production approaches to deal with specific issues such as teenage pregnancies (e.g. through the Family-Nurse-Partnership Programme) and the limited access for older people to healthy food and supportive social networks (e.g. through the Food Train). 

Nicola Sturgeon, then Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing and Cities Strategy with a client of the FNP programme.

On an operational level, the Joint Improvement Team (JIT), which is co-sponsored by the Scottish Government, CoSLA and NHS Scotland, working in strategic partnership with the Third and Independent sectors, provides support to 32 locally based partnerships across Scotland (including NHS, council, third and independent sector organisations) to integrate co-production as an approach within health and social care. This work has been led by the two National Co-Production and Community Capacity Leads  Gerry Power and Andrew Jackson working with geographically based JIT Associates. Activity to date has included: 

  • Awareness raising activities, such as the first Co-Production and Community Capacity-Building Conference in Dunfermline in January 2011, which was attended by more than 300 participants. 
  • Providing case study evidence that co-production works including the publication with Governance International of Co-production in Health and Social Care: What it is and how to do it, and the building of management and front-line staff capacity across local councils, the NHS, independent and voluntary sectors by rolling out training based on the Governance International Co-Production Star.
  • Gathering good practice case studies from all of the 32 local partnerships in Scotland.
  • Strengthening networking and the exchange of experiences through the Scottish Co-Production Network.

The change management strategy of JIT is showing signs of success as a number of councils have already started to take action to roll out co-production across their services. For example, Midlothian Council have adopted a Council wide approach to co-production enabling all council services in the county to make effective use of the Governance International Co-Production Toolkit. In addition JIT has provided coaching to assist the implement of action plans being drawn up by participants in the co-production training sessions. This process has uncovered good examples of co-productive practice already taking place in the Council which are being used as drivers to convince more colleagues to adopt this way of working and promote culture change.

Co-production is also being rolled out in other public services in Scotland. For example, Strathclyde Police and the national Violence Reduction Unit have been leading an assets-based approach in a highly deprived area in North West Kilmarnock, which was previously characterised by high crime rates. The project uncovered enormous reserves of creativity and energy in the community, which have helped to turn around the quality of life of local people in the area. The lesson which Chief Inspector Tony Bone took away from his involvement with this project was: You don't know what you need in a community until you know what you already have.

In other organisations, however, full buy-in remains to be achieved and work continues to demonstrate the value of this approach in delivering better outcomes and/or efficiency savings. For example JIT is currently working with a number of partnerships on Contribution Analysis to develop an evidence base which can demonstrate the economic utility of co-production and community capacity building as well as their impact on personal outcomes. It is recognised that embedding co-production and community capacity building in organisations and services will require whole systems change which spans commissioning of public services through to organisational and individual performance improvement. One example of how this might be achieved in future is by recognising the capacity and capability of front-line staff to co-produce with users and communities in organisational competency and performance management frameworks. This will support the principle of co-production by emphasising it is more rewarding for the service user, the professional and the provider organisation to solve problems together and not simply do things to and for service users.

I am delighted to announce that Co-Production of Health and Wellbeing in Scotland, the second booklet on co-production and community capacity building in Scotland, produced in association with Governance International and other partners, will be launched by Mr Alex Neil, Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing, at the National Co-Production and Community Capacity-Building Conference on 20 February 2013 in Edinburgh. This publication includes updated and new chapters covering the background to co-production, case studies and good practice from within Scotland and from our learning partners in Sweden. This I hope will help to demonstrate the great strides that have already taken place in making co-production and community capacity building a key part of the strategy and the practice of public services in Scotland and encourage you further to making these approaches central to the way you plan and deliver services.



This guest blog has been written by Dr Margaret Whoriskey.

Director, Joint Improvement Team

16. August 2012


Volunteering at the Olympics

Governance International Associate John Tatam reports about his volunteering experience at the Olympics 2012 in London.

I had heard a lot about the impact of volunteers on the Olympics, particularly in Sydney, so when we won the bid I leapt at the chance to be involved at least to some extent, on the inside.

The application process was surprisingly complex and extended. Around a quarter of a million people applied; some hundred thousand plus were interviewed; and seventy thousand finally selected, which despite my feeble responses to questions like ?When have you gone the extra mile?? included me.

There were many roles available from supporting particular sports to back room jobs like media relations and driving the fleet of four hundred BMWs! As a keen cyclist I had opted for the cycling team. It turned out that over fifteen hundred volunteers were needed for the two road races (the biggest events of the games), several hundred for the time trials and the mountain biking, but just a few for the velodrome.  I got shifts on the road races and time trial.

Being a volunteer gave just a glimpse of the sheer scale of the Olympic venture: all the volunteers and fifty thousand paid staff were put through an orientation day at Wembley arena. There were thousands there on my day ? yet this was just a tenth of the total number; attending uniform measurement and distribution was also an eye opener. The lead up to the Olympics was full of the usual moans and groans about organisation from the media and elsewhere. I just thought: ?What do they know??

The orientation and the ?venue specific? training focused principally on motivation, making us feel vital to the success of the Olympics, and of course being positive with the public. Given that we were volunteers and that some of the tasks we would be given would inevitably be less than exciting I can see that setting the right mood was essential. After all we heard that lots of G4S paid staff failed to show. I would guess that the level of absenteeism among volunteers was minimal.

The men?s road race was on the first day ? and Team GB was of course fancied. We were driven out in coaches to our sectors of the route and as we passed gathering crowds (some cheering us!) town greens with big screens and picnickers already assembling, flags, bicycles hanging out of windows or on roofs, and a primary school?s witty display of wicker cyclists on bikes (some with dogs on the back) it really felt like something significant was happening. Something very unusual was stirring in Surrey.

I had a very rural sector but large numbers of people slowly gathered and the mood was fun and relaxed with  the endless succession of Police and official?s motor bikes coming through and high fiving the crowds. My particular job was ?flagging? a bridge where the road narrowed from double to single lane and bales protected the bridge parapet. Some of the crowd were open about having chosen this spot in the hope of seeing a crash. The men?s race passed through fine in a lead group of twenty odd and a peloton of about one hundred and thirty ? though, of course, passing inches from my nose. The women were less successful.

As the women?s peloton of about sixty approached at, I guess, around thirty miles an hour, I suddenly realised they were not all going to make it despite my frantic whistle blowing. I must have closed my eyes and jumped to the side before hearing the sound of cycles hitting the ground and thinking ?Oh no, not on my patch!? I opened my eyes to see four cyclists and bikes on the ground in front of me and a Brazilian ten feet down in the ditch (with one of the bales)  but already trying to clamber out. I helped her and her bike at which point the TV picked up the scene? they simply had not seen her disappear down the hole. I was then undecided whether or not I should be helping the other women sort out their bikes or maybe ringing for help. I was conscious that I was probably on TV at this point and ought to be looking decisive! (My family, who had been watching on television inevitably focused on this ?Mr Bean? moment rather than my heroic rescuing of the Brazilian cyclist.) It was all over in no time. What had felt to me like a serious incident was just a blip in their race!

On the Wednesday I was at the Time Trials and really lucky to be based right in Hampton Court. This meant I was able to see the start, the finish, the return of the cyclists, Brad?s victory lap and medal ceremony. A fantastic privilege to be there at the point where it all started to go right for Team GB!

I was also able to attend a number of events ? free and ticketed ? as a spectator. (This included standing three feet from where a Canadian cyclist took a bad cart wheeling fall in the men?s triathlon, so I am now being seen as jinxed).  Clichéd though it is, the London Olympics was a once in a lifetime experience, and I am grateful that I have had the chance to experience it, and be absorbed in it from the outside and, a little, from the inside. I now have six days of Paralympic cycling down at Brand?s Hatch.

So does this mean there will be more volunteering from me and others? That is not so clear. I got the impression that many of my cycle team colleagues were already involved in local clubs etc and the Olympics was a very high profile one off event. It is too early to tell what the long term impact might be.


16. July 2012


Co-producing wellbeing: Getting ready for welfare reform

Why public service co-production is now needed on a mass scale

Elke Loeffler and Frankie Hine-Hughes outline a transformation strategy for local councils to manage demand on public services by unlocking the strengths, assets and resources of service users and communities.

In the light of current financial austerity and the long-term demographic changes we are facing in the UK, co-production is no longer just a good idea - it has become a necessity. This applies in particular to health and social care but it is also true in other local services such as community safety and environment. As the case studies in our new book with LGiU 'Making health and social care personal and local: Moving from mass production to co-production' demonstrates, co-production is already recognised as an important element in the transformation of councils. While this is most vividly being promoted by the network of Co-operative Councils and the six councils participating in the NESTA people-powered health project, there are now actually scores of councils across the UK which are embracing co-production as core to the transformation of their services.

However, the picture is still patchy. The panel debate at the recent book launch event at the LGiU in London showed that involving service users and communities in the commissioning, design and delivery of public services is still sporadic rather than normal, and piecemeal rather than systematic. Why is this? One of the key barriers to systematic co-production, as the debate highlighted, continues to be the 'we solve the problem for them' culture of service providers and commissioners. Of course, highly qualified and motivated professional staff, backed up by competent and committed managers will always remain vital to excellent local services. However, the lesson from successful co-production case studies, as showcased in the book, is that these are simply not enough in 2012. Unless service users and their communities also contribute their strengths, assets and resources to services, real excellence is not possible - and costs will higher than necessary. So, the focus in co-producing councils is now on giving guidance and support to citizens as co-producers of services, recognising that improving outcomes is a joint responsibility, not just something that councils can achieve by themselves.

Of course, not all citizens are ready to co-produce - and not all staff know how to unlock the potential in services and citizens. So what needs to be done in practice to help councils to tap into the strengths, assets and resources of service users and communities?

New ways of collaborating with users and communities in local services

Governance International, a social enterprise based in Birmingham, has been working on these issues for more than five years with councils in the UK and Europe. We have developed a practical transformation approach for public services. While many councils in the UK have involved their users in consultation exercises, co-production goes way beyond consultation. As Dave McKenna of the Better Swansea Partnership put it: Co-production leads us away from "You said, we did" to "We talked, we did together". For Governance International co-production is about 'public services and citizens making better use of each other's assets and resources to achieve better outcomes or improved efficiency'. 

Actually, there are lots of different ways of involving users and communities in public services. They include:

  • Co-commissioning public services - shifting the focus from services that councils think people need to outcomes that local people themselves believe to be priorities, e.g. through neighbourhood budgeting.
  • Co-designing public services - using the customer journey approach to look at how the service process can be improved from the user?s point of view. The outcomes and efficiency savings from the re-design of the Stockport social care website 'My Care, My Choice' show how powerful co-design can be.
  • Co-delivering public services - identifying who is willing to do what and how, e.g. through capability assessments (as we are currently piloting with Walsall Council) and community asset surveys.
  • Co-assessing public services - training citizens to carry out service inspections and scrutiny, often through the use of social media or online ratings. The case study of citizen-led inspections in West Lothian Council shows that citizens have an important role to play alongside professional inspectors.

The Co-Production Star gives a clear visual portrayal of these four Co's of co-production. Using this tool, councils and their partners can map the current level of collaboration between local councillors, managers, front-line staff and citizens. And they can spot areas where more co-production could be tried in the future.

How to manage the transformation to more co-production

The inner ring of the Governance International Co-Production Star highlights the changes that a council needs to make in order to roll out co-production in public services. It outlines a five step change management model. It recognises that co-production is nothing new - but that we need to change the culture of organisations and partnerships in order to make the most of what we are already doing. And we need to seek out change pro-actively to identify new ways of working between councils and citizens. This may already be working well in some of our services but real transformation will only come when co-production is identified, managed effectively and rolled out much more widely.  This involves the following five steps.

Step 1: 'Map it!'

We typically find in our training and briefing sessions that participants quickly recognise that co-production is already happening in every organisation - but only here and there, in pockets. This means that it's really important for councillors and staff to map the way in which they collaborate with service users and communities, so that they can build on what works to avoid re-inventing the wheel. Our Co-Production Explorer supports this self-audit - identifying clearly what is already being done, so that it can become the basis for learning and development - and what is NOT being done, so that new co-production approaches can be devised.

Step 2: 'Focus it!'

After mapping what is happening - and not happening - councils need to prioritise their efforts to take co-production further. Our Co-Production Priority Matrix is a simple technique to rate current and potential coproduction activities - distinguishing priority projects to be taken on, and those to be dropped or put on the back burner. 'Quick wins' (high impact, low effort initiatives) are self-evidently the optimal starting point - establishing success, to catalyse further co-production.

Step 3: 'People it!' 

Here we need to ask: how can we involve the right people in the community and in the agency to contribute to improved public services and outcomes. The Governance International Community Asset Survey helps identify what local communities are already doing and how they want to get involved more. The Capabilities Assessment which Governance International is currently piloting with Walsall MBC identifies service users and carers who are already doing interesting activities that could help others and who would like to widen this out, to enrich their own social lives and make the most of their own capabilities by helping others. Having identified these key people who want to help make co-production really work, it is important to bring these citizens together with key staff in 'co-production labs', so that together they can design how these activities can really succeed through citizens and staff working together.

Step 4: 'Market it!'

Having reached this stage, we have to make it simple for people who want to be involved to actually get involved and stay involved. This stage is often missing from current co-production approaches. Incentives and nudges are really crucial to encouraging the inputs of both citizens and professionals. There are lots of different kinds of incentives: psychological incentives, which reinforce an individual's 'feel good factor' with appreciation or other informal rewards; or more formal mechanisms like 'recognition awards', which could include prizes (or even monetary incentives). Another way of encouraging individuals to take part in co-production is to agree co-production charters that outline explicitly the roles, responsibilities, and conflict mechanisms for staff, citizens and service users. These can provide an effective framework to show people what responsibilities they are committing to - and what the statutory agency is committing to provide by way of support to those who work with it.

Step 5: 'Grow it!'

Once the co-production ball is rolling, the momentum needs to be kept up and even increased. Co-production can be scaled up across an organisation by showcasing 'champions' or developing a business case. It is vital that performance management and human resource management systems are aligned to co-producing - it needs to become clear that co-production is actually a central part of the job of all staff.

Next steps

Finally, it is not important what a local council calls this new way of working with users and communities. Some will be happy with the label 'co-production'. Others may want to call it 'co-operative working'. Yet others may want to label it 'partnership with users and the third sector'. Fine. What is important is that councils recognise how patchy and sporadic has been their practice up to now in promoting genuine co-production.  And then deciding that they want to start the real transformation process now.

Clearly, collaborative ways of working, based on mutual respect, power-sharing and a focus on outcomes, requires courage and risk-taking. Many councils are now at the stage where they have recognised this. But it is not enough. To make the transformation real, investment in training and change management is necessary. And an understanding that many of the steps towards culture change won't work immediately - experimentation is needed, and therefore patience and flexibility. Even more alarming - some budget will need to be spent to learn which approaches to co-production really work in your area - and which don?t. Effective co-production is not free - but the spend that's needed could be the most cost-effective investment that a council undertakes during the next decade.

In any case, what are the alternatives? If councils do not start now on the path of co-production with their users and citizens, their only alternative to deal with the current financial pressures will be significant cuts to local services.  Then they will find that service users and citizens REALLY want to get involved - but usually in a negative, destructive way. To avoid this, pro-active approaches to co-production are essential NOW.

We said we had a five step model towards co-production of public services and outcomes - but actually this was not quite the whole truth. There is a sixth step, probably most important of all -  START NOW!!!

4. July 2012

Costumer focus

A case for administrative simplification: The proliferation and complexity of ombudsman schemes in the UK

Recently, members of the Governance International team have been working with a number of EU candidate and EuroMed countries on service charters, citizens’ access to effective complaints mechanisms and independent redress. So what is happening on this front in the UK? While customer redress is not one of big governance issues currently in the headlines, the Open Public Services White Paper has pledged to establish whether all services are appropriately covered by Ombudsmen and whether Ombudsmen have the resources and powers of enforcement that they need. 

A guest blog from Peter Tyndall, Public Services Ombudsman for Wales, discusses the effects of privatisation and new service delivery models on redress schemes in the UK. He proposes that access to redress should be made less complex than is currently the case.

Since 1979 many services formerly in the public sector have been privatised – power companies, water, phones and public transport amongst them, sometimes collectively referred to as the networked services.  Under successive governments we have seen a large proportion of council housing sold to its tenants or transferred to housing associations and parts of the state healthcare sector being outsourced to private companies. In England many schools are now outside of local government control.  Most residential homes for older people are now privately provided, whereas in the past many were provided by councils.

What’s this got to do with ombudsmen you might ask?  Well, while all services are provided by the state, there is little issue about access to redress.  However, when services are privatised, then access to redress can be lost.  In some ways, you can argue, that it begs a question – if the railways, for example, are run by a private company, do they stop being a public service?

The development of ombudsman services in the UK reflects the changing face of public services, and also, the devolution of power to Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. The first ombudsman service was the UK Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman founded in 1967, followed in 1969 by the Northern Ireland Ombudsman and the Local Government Ombudsmen, now covering England only. 

There followed a series of ombudsman institutions covering banks, insurance and other parts of the financial sector.  These have since been consolidated into the Financial Ombudsman Service.  This has a statutory basis, its existence is established by law and providers must participate.  A key distinction is that funding for the service is provided by the industry, and not by the state.  We have also seen the development of private sector ombudsman schemes for telecommunications and for energy as these industries were privatised.  These schemes were approved under legislation.

It is evident that the boundaries of the state are becoming more porous. In health, where the state commissions private or independent sector providers, the services they deliver are within the remits of the public sector ombudsmen. This principle has been described as following the public pound. In social care, while many older people in residential homes have their care paid for by local councils, for those people who can meet the cost of their own care, there is no subsidy.  The Local Government Ombudsman service in England has had its remit extended so that people who pay for their own care can still complain to the ombudsman if they cannot resolve their concerns locally and I expect my own remit to be extended in this way soon.  This is an example where an entirely privately funded service is within the remit of a public services ombudsman. 

The net effect of all of these developments is a far more complex network of ombudsmen spanning both existing public services, and former ones, funded by a mixture of grant and levies.  Some sectors now have more than one ombudsman, while others such as transport, now have no access to an ombudsman at all.

The creation of Ombudsman Association can also be seen as a response to the complexity.  One of the key risks of diversification is the loss of a consistent approach to standards. The Ombudsman Association works hard to restrict the use of the ombudsman title to schemes which meet the key criteria - independence; fairness; effectiveness; openness and transparency, and accountability.

From the citizen’s perspective, the rapid expansion in redress schemes, described in one publication as “ombudsmania”, presents its own challenges.  When all public services are provided and delivered by the state, it’s easy to know where to complain.  However, as more and more are delivered by the private or independent sectors, finding your way through to the appropriate ombudsman scheme can be more of a challenge.  All UK public sector schemes report increasing amounts of signposting activity, where they help to direct callers to the appropriate body.  In the case of my own office, as Public Services Ombudsman for Wales, we have explicitly developed a new service – Complaints Wales.  This provides a dedicated telephone hotline and website which tells people how to complain about public services, even where they are now provided by private companies.  It helps to direct callers to either the service provider or, if they have already complained to them unsuccessfully, to the appropriate ombudsman.  

So what can we conclude about the impact of diversity in public service providers on the work of ombudsmen?  The proliferation of ombudsman schemes has made it more difficult for service users to access redress, and threatens uneven standards.  The Ombudsman Association has helped to tackle this, but in retrospect, it is worth reflecting whether the public services ombudsmen should have had their remits amended to include all public services, regardless of how they are provided.  A proliferation of schemes is not the best way to serve the public.  However, where schemes are covering privately provided public services, there is a strong case for arguing that this element of their work should be funded by a levy.

In the UK, it is also the case that in general, public services ombudsmen make recommendations and do not have binding powers, while private sector ombudsmen do.  In a hybrid model, it is likely that binding powers, at least in respect of private providers, will be necessary.  

It is not appropriate to turn back the clock in the UK.  However, we do need to work to ensure that all users of previously privatised public services have access to an independent ombudsman scheme. The same applies to new service delivery models such as mutuals and co-operatives. I would contend that this should be through one of the existing ombudsmen, and not through the creation of new schemes.

New EU proposals are likely to impact on the purely consumer schemes, and the Ombudsman Association should again work to avoid proliferation.  Competition between schemes serves to damage the interests of consumers, as companies will tend to choose the ombudsman they perceive as being least likely to uphold complaints or to insist on redress.  Once again, we need to work to extend access by broadening the reach of existing schemes.

The Executive of the Ombudsman Association has been considering these issues for some time, but often in response to issues raised by applications for membership and Government initiatives.  They are now developing a formal policy statement and plan to use it to promote rational and comprehensive coverage of ombudsman schemes in the public and private sectors in the UK and in Ireland.

It is the job of the state to ensure that citizens have access to public services.  It is also widely accepted that citizens should have access to independent redress in the shape of ombudsmen.  Complexity in service provision should be counterbalanced by simplicity in accessing redress.

28. February 2012

Good Governance

Which public sector standards do we want to afford? The changing ethics and transparency agenda in the UK

While economy, efficiency and effectiveness are very much at the top of most local councils' agendas, there is much less talk about another important 'e' in local government - the ethics agenda. Yet, internationally, the UK is still highly regarded because of its independent civil service, its direct focus on equalities and diversity issues and its performance management practices. The recent London study visit of a delegation of senior staff from the Inspection Board of the Turkish Home Office sheds some light on new developments in the UK.

First of all, some watchdogs have already gone or are going to disappear. As the Turkish delegates learnt during their visit to the Local Government Association, the government agency Standards for England ceased to operate from 31 January 2012. Established as a result of the Local Government Act 2000, the agency was responsible for promoting high ethical standards in local democracy. In particular, it oversaw the Code of Conduct, which covers elected and co-opted members of local councils, and other public agencies. However, the overwhelming majority of local councils have opted to keep their Standards Committees. So it seems that standards at local level still matter.

Moreover, the Audit Commission, a public corporation (independent of government) who appoints auditors to councils, NHS bodies, police authorities and other local public services in England, and oversees their work, will soon be closed as well. The Turkish delegates were very surprised to hear at the Audit Commission that all external audits will eventually be done by private audit companies and wondered about safeguards to corruption and public service ethos. The UK will be the first country in Europe to have fully privatised local government audit.

At the same time, much information about the performance of important local services, which was previously widely available to the public, has already disappeared.  It is no longer possible for residents to compare which councils have better refuse collection services or to be running things well in general.  Clearly, no other country in Europe has had such a wealth of public service performance information as in the UK - indeed, some critics have argued that there has been too much! It raises the question as to why the government has bounced from such a probably 'over-the-top' approach all the way to the other extreme, scrapping so much performance information completely? Again, the good news is that many local councils (as we heard from the London Borough of Westminster) continue to gather and use performance information systematically for their internal performance management systems.

In place of service output and outcome information, the coalition government has imposed the requirement on all local authorities that local citizens should now be able to find out exactly how their local council spends taxpayers' money, down to the last £500. But do residents care?  There is so far very little evidence of the effectiveness of 'armchair auditors'.

Many ICT officers have indicated that they now have to deal with more Freedom of Information requests which may be a positive indication that at least some citizens make use of the new data available. The London Borough of Barnet even intends to publish information on gifts and hospitality in the case of senior officers on its website in order to increase public trust.

So is there now more or less fraud and corruption in local government? Or is it possible that, in these tough times, public sector staff and citizens pay less attention to the rules and regulations, so there is an increase in fraud?

The 2010/11 Fraud Survey of the Audit Commission shows that local councils and related bodies detected £18 million of fraud in 1990. Today that figure has shot up to £185 million. Of course, this does not mean that there is necessarily more fraud - it may simply be that local councils have got better at detecting it. For example, in the old days, 90% of all detection was benefit fraud. Professionalisation in the field of tackling benefit fraud had the spin-off benefit that it helped to skill up those working on non-benefit fraud detection. As a result, today the split is 60 per cent benefit fraud and 40 per cent non-benefit fraud.

Not surprisingly, the biggest fraud not related to benefits is in procurement. The visit to the London Borough of Haringey was highly revealing of the very sophisticated systems which have now been put in place to deter and detect fraudulent practices in procurement. Haringey has developed such a thorough approach that it is now the lead procurement agency for the whole of London local government in the fields of construction and of energy. It was a matter of considerable satisfaction to the managers of this system, that the recent exposure by the Office of Fair Trading of over 100 building companies which had been operating price fixing in public sector construction contracts, did not find a single contract which had been let through this Haringey system.

Interestingly, the visit revealed a number of ways in which members of staff and the general public play a key role in revealing cases of fraud. Indeed, most fraud cases only get detected because of reporting by staff or the public. The Turkish delegates were concerned, however, that citizens might be deterred in playing this 'whistleblower' role where they had to address their complaints or suspicions to the very same local council that they suspected of committing fraud,  given that most people would not know any other body to address. They thought that an independent anti-fraud hot-line (such as operated by Child Line of NSPCC for those suspecting the existence of child abuse) might be a better solution.

The final visit to the National Fraud Authority in the Home Office made us all aware that effective anti-fraud strategies require partnership working across a wide range of private sector companies, the third sector and public agencies. Most importantly, it requires a public debate on what is right and wrong and which standards we want to stick to. Obviously, this will always be culture-bound but the Turkish delegates felt that the lessons learnt in the UK and policy changes would be very useful to inform this debate in Turkey.

Governance International would like to thank all hosts of the study visit for their excellent presentations and their contributions to the discussion, including:

  • ChildLine
  • Centre for Public Scrutiny
  • City of Westminster Council
  • Department of Health
  • London Borough of Haringey
  • London Borough of Barnet
  • Local Government Association
  • National Fraud Authority, Home Office
  • National Audit Commission

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