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Public services working group - Madrid

  • Date(s)
    4 June 2004
  • Location

In collaboration with The European Policy Centre, the Policy Network Economic Reform working group met for the third time in Brussels in July 2004 to discuss more precisely the prospects for a new growth and prosperity agenda for Europe.

The meeting sought to identify what the modern progressive approach to economic reform in Europe should be. Two main topics were on the agenda discussion. The first one was focussed on the Corporate reform, and in particular the role which should be played by the Civil Society. The second was to look more precisely to the role of the Public sector within the Lisbon process.
Corporate Reform

The Civil Society – Redefining Ownership for 21st Century

The underlying basis for this discussion was the belief that the profound changes taking place in corporate accountability are partly being driven by company ownership changes.  The traditional position on the left has been to view the ownership of companies as a source of inequality.  The presentation argued that as a result of the growth of pension funds in particular, the ultimate owners of companies are individuals.  Importantly, the debate needs to be occurring, not at the level of whether it is happening or not, but how society can harness this new structure in a way that will be socially positive.

The role of government in doing this is to facilitate the integration and interaction between the different stakeholders.  This would involve such measures as greater dissemination of information.  For example, while the Lisbon Agenda identifies key areas relating to innovation, the current reporting models need to be redesigned to ensure the relevant information is provided.  For progressives this is especially important as the social agenda of governments will be supported by a better information flow in relation to corporate reporting.

There were some questions raised about the concept of the civil economy in terms of what exactly it seeks to achieve.  Whether it is trying to change the way individuals see companies or trying to ensure more propriety in the way companies conduct themselves, or whether there is a European business model which might be more successful at generating enterprise and growth.  The question of a European response to corporate accountability raised issues relating to the structure of share ownership in different European countries – in particular different approaches taken by the UK and Continental Europe to pension funds.

There was also consideration of the need to incentivise dispersed, small owners to act in the civil economy.  While it was suggested that proper reporting could be the solution to this, there is clearly going to be future debate as to what type of information is useful to owners and what is unnecessarily burdensome on companies.  Part of this discussion looked at the example of how to value human capital and it’s relationship to performance as a challenge for government.

This led to the question of the role of auditors in this process.  While the dissemination of information can be difficult at times, the working group raised the question of whether society is getting sufficient value out of the auditing community.  This directly relates to the problem that the engaged shareowner is not necessarily a uniform individual which creates tensions within companies which stifle economic performance.  However, there was consensus that there is a basic level of information relevant to the business which would benefit all owners without placing an unnecessary burden on the company.

The third meeting of the Public Services Renewal working group was held on the 4th and 5th of June in Madrid.  This event was organised in co-operation with the Spanish think tank Fundacion Alternativas.

The working group analysed in greater detail some issues that have been partly discussed throughout previous sessions.  Furthermore, the examination of different national case studies within a comparative perspective provided the members new elements and excellent empirical material to carry on with their discussions.

The opening session of this meeting examined the plausible changes that could be implemented in order to strengthen and perpetuate middle class trust and loyalty to public services. In that respect, potential alterations in the areas of tax, personalization and delivery were mentioned.

The links between dynamism, innovation and profit motive were explored, although assuming that existing national differences, in terms of public-private institutional arrangements, were obviously a deterrent for envisage homogeneous strategies. On the other hand, in addition to distinct institutional configurations, plurality of national public perceptions, including those of the middle class, critically bound the areas where private and public sector may operate.

Nevertheless, independently of national particularities, the middle class is becoming increasingly pragmatic on their evaluation of how public services should be run and, eventually, this is a driving force for reform.

Public satisfaction with public services should be one of the central goals of politicians even if it implies, on the one hand, greater monitoring and reform of professional practices, and, on the other hand, the introduction of greater choice capable to foster innovation and long-standing improvement.

The second session of the meeting led participants to analyse what is the role of professionals within the process of public services reform. Gaynor McCown and Alejandro Tiana opened up the debate introducing the situation of the teaching profession in the United States and Spain.

The discussion was mainly focused on what is the degree of influence of teaching on quality education and how teachers might be trained, recruited, monitored and encouraged to provide best quality teaching.

While it was acknowledged that relevant causes, as class size or school social environment, might enhance our understanding of variations on the quality of education, there was agreement that teaching was probably one of the most important factors determining such quality.

Thus, an efficient system of monitoring and incentives for teachers as well as greater degree of autonomy for school managers and principals were seen as potential tools to improve teacher performance in the long-term.

With the presentations of Simon Stevens and Alberto Infante, the third session of the meeting allow the participants to compare the different systems of assisted choice being developed in Spain and the United Kingdom throughout last years.

In Spain exists a remarkable degree of choice as a result of a powerful process of regional devolution. The diversification of services is de facto increasing the quality of health services, though remains to be seen how universality and equity might be affected. In the United Kingdom, after many years of conservative governments under-investment, the introduction of choice emerges within a context of expanding capacity. However, there is need to create access channels easy to use, in order to offer choice everybody within the British National Health Service.

The next meeting of the Public Services Renewal working group takes place in New York on the 2nd, 3rd and 4th of December 2004. For enquiries about Policy Network’s work in the area of Public Services, please write to info@policy-network.net

The meeting in Madrid was attended by:

Andrew Adonis (Special adviser for the Prime Minister Tony Blair)
Moises Amoros (Analyst of the Centre for Local Innovation, Barcelona)
Matt Browne (Director of Policy Network)
Emilio Casals (Inspector General of Services of Public Administration in Spain)
Dan Corry (Director of the New Local Government Network)
Tibor Dessewffy (President and CEO of Vision Consulting, Budapest)
Juan Manuel Eguiagaray (Director of Laboratorio de Alternativas, Madrid)
Antonio Estella (Professor of Law at University Carlos III University, Madrid)
Cibran Fernandez (Policy Officer for the Public Services working group at Policy Network)
Kare Hagen (Professor at the Norwegian School of Management, Norway)
Riccardo Illy (President of the Italian Region Friuli-Venezia Giulia)
Alberto Infante (Special adviser for the Spanish Minister of Health)
François Lafond (Deputy Director Policy Network)
Gaynor McCown (executive director of The Teaching Commission,United States)
Simon Stevens (Former special adviser for the Prime Minister Tony Blair)
Alejandro Tiana (Spanish Secretary General of Education)

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