The result of the EU referendum was a huge shock to a lot of people, including myself. It has created a huge amount of uncertainly just when we were settling down to normality after last year's general election and subsequent spending review.
My biggest fear is that the referendum result will totally monopolise the time and energy of Ministers and MPs. As a country we cannot afford to slip into another period of nothing happening on the public service reform front. The public would not thank Westminster politicians for three years of nothing but Brexit. For sure some legislative time will need to be devoted to unpicking our membership of the EU - but this must be balanced with a continuation of a positive domestic agenda.
I'm thinking specifically of things like the devolution agenda and the great work going on in areas such as Manchester and Liverpool. These areas have been making huge strides towards taking control of local services and thinking differently about how these services are delivered. As an example, there are ambitious and innovative proposals to join up children's services across council boundaries, which would create a more seamless services for young people (who often move across councils) and also create savings. These devolution areas are in a state of semi-reform and the momentum must be maintained if the good initial work is not to be lost.
Also delicately placed are reforms like the integration of health and social care. This is critically important as our population gets older and services face ever increasing pressures. The link between hospitals and caring for people in their own homes or in intermediate care settings must be seamless or a lot of money will be wasted and a lot of vulnerable people will end up stuck somewhere they don't want to be.
There is also the government's manifesto commitment to support the development of more public service mutuals, where new delivery models (Like social enterprises) allow services to be more flexible and allow staff to take more direct control. This is essential to balancing the public service market place which at the minute is overly dominated by both traditional in-house services and traditional outsourcing to big private sector providers. This critical agenda is now under threat. Social Enterprise UK have highlighted the risk that, following the referendum result, public sector contracts will be delayed, banks will be discouraged from lending and big private sector providers will try and squeeze their suppliers, many of whom will be smaller social enterprises. The Employee Ownership Association expressed hope that the referendum would not stall the "growth in alternative employee owned delivery models and 'mutuals' for essential public services such as social and health care".
There are many other reforms that have really only got going following last year's election. It would be a huge mistake to allow the referendum result to stall this important work. Whether we are in or out of the EU, it is local public services that have the biggest impact on people's lives. Our national leaders in Westminster need to quickly demonstrate that they get this.
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