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Public Works is UNISON Scotland's campaign for jobs, services, fair taxation and the Living Wage. This blog will provide news and analysis on the delivery of public services in Scotland. We welcome comments and if you would like to contribute to this blog, please contact Dave Watson d.watson@unison.co.uk. For other information on what's happening in UNISON Scotland please visit our website.

Monday, 18 November 2013

The enabling state - lessons from case studies

The Carnegie Trust have published a series of case studies to illustrate what they see as shift in public service reform from the top down state to the enabling state. They identify different language and approaches in the nations of the UK, albeit with some common themes. Four of the case studies are from Scotland and the project leader is Sir John Eldridge, former head of the civil service in Scotland.

The features of the enabling state include a shift:

• From new public management to public value
• From centralised management to localism
• Fromrepresentativetoparticipativedemocracy
• From silos and towards integration
• Fromacuteinterventiontoprevention
• From recipients to co-producers
• From state delivery to the third sector

The report highlights some themes from the case studies.


  • They recognise that creating an enabling environment is not an easy task for government. A state that is too directive in its approach risks failing to make best use of existing individual and community strengths at the local level. On the other hand, a ‘hollow’ state that simply withdraws and leaves communities to ‘get on with it’ risks exacerbating inequalities.
  • There is a risk that communities with limited connections within their communities and to professionals and influential people or organisations are left behind. This has been a feature of many community based approaches in Scotland. Almost all of the case studies where co-production occurred operated on a voluntary basis.
  • Equally there are a number of barriers to transformational change as 'tinkering around the edges' or incremental change is seen as less effective. These barriers can include existing structures and cultures. 
  • The case studies emphasised the length of time required for development and implementation. Investing in enough staff with the right mix of skills, experience and personal attributes is vital.


The language of co-production and asset based approaches is widely used in discussions about public service reform in Scotland. However, as these case studies show, in practice it can describe a range of different approaches. While there is broad agreement that these models can make a contribution to better service delivery, there is always a risk that inappropriate services are shoe horned into this approach. A new form of the 'one size fits all' ideology. This report is therefore a useful contribution to the debate, with all the caveats that limited case studies have for broader application.

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