As advocates for positive change, leaders in public services know that their positions come with a profound sense of duty.
This belief holds true for faculty at the Institute of Local Government Studies (INLOGOV) – the UK’s leading centre for research and teaching on local governance and strategic public management.
So why is ‘accountability’ essential to good governance, and what role do public sector professionals have to play in this?
“Good leaders understand that they need to explain their actions and really listen to those on whom those actions have an impact and act swiftly to put things right if they go wrong” says Professor Catherine Staite for INLOGOV.
However, there are barriers to accountability that affect this sector. “There are so many flaws in our fragmented systems of governance that it can be very hard to understand who really is accountable when things go wrong. There has been much focus recently on the negative impacts of privatising regulatory services but that is just the tip of the iceberg.”
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Just think about the outsourcing of benefits assessment to a demonstrably incompetent company, the divestment of social housing from councils, the purchaser-provider split in health and the structural, professional, financial and organisational chasms between health and social care. All of those exercises in fragmentation result in people falling through those cracks without ever understanding who is responsible for their suffering.
Homelessness is a classic example of this. Failure compounds failure and more energy is expended on shunting the blame than on solving the problems.
Recent high profile tragedies such as the Grenfell Tower fire, which has been described as one of the UKs worst modern disasters, have further highlighted the issue of accountability in the public sector, with the Government, fire service and contractors under intense scrutiny for their actions leading up to and during the fire.
Similarly, the Windrush immigration scandal, which saw at least 83 people wrongly deported by the Home Office in 2018, raised widespread questions about who should be held to account.
However, INLOGOV states that the solution is far more in-depth than a simple restructure. The reality is that systems, structures and processes in both the public and private sectors are complex and messy – particularly where sectors intersect, as in public transport or primary care. If we tidy up in one place, we’ll create a knock-on effect elsewhere.
Therefore, the best route to accountability is through public sector professionals who really dedicate themselves to making a difference. We’d do better to focus on the people in the system – on developing their skills and strengthening their values so they understand the real importance of good governance and the critical role of accountability. The key to future good governance and accountability lies in the way in which we recruit, train, develop, manage and lead our 21st century public servants.
The Online Masters of Public Administration aims to develop a deep appreciation for the importance of taking ownership and responsibility in public service management. Those looking to affect positive change can learn from experts who have built their careers researching and working within local governance and also public services.
If you are looking to make an even greater difference to public services and believe our Online Masters of Public Administration would help to strengthen your position as an accountable leader, please fill out our request for information form or call our Admissions Team today.
*An original version of this article can be found here.