Category Archives: Public Services Governance

Who cares?

No-one cares anymore. About anything. At least, nothing that really matters. It’s all style and no substance. It’s all cost-cutting, down-sizing, automating, agile, lean, do-it-yourself. Want to speak to someone? Forget it. Fill in a form – online. How about a cardboard cut-out police officer – just as good as the real thing. And, of course, cheaper.

Just take a moment to scroll through Instagram; browse through the magazines that adorn your local newsagents or flick through the TV channels. Nothing is about what people are doing – everything is about what people are consuming. Ask not what you can do for anyone – ask what filter is best for your selfie. Because you’re worth it.

Of course I know this isn’t true. Or at least it’s not the whole truth. I’m lucky, because I am a public administration scholar and in my job I get to meet incredible people every day. People who do care and are making a difference to the most vulnerable in our society. Social workers, teachers, nurses, police officers, fire and rescue officers, local government officers, policy officers, researchers and academics who are all bound by their passion for public service delivery and their strong commitment to civic duty.

Yet so much of the work of our public servants is undermined by their political masters and the media. Those who are less fortunate in life are classed as undeserving and are parodied or seen as sources of entertainment or amusement (take for example the case of so-called Slum Tourism or ‘Poverty Porn‘ on TV) . Those who work to support them are pilloried for being over-paid, clock-watching (by Michael Gove MP), lazy or self-interested. Yet politicians can lie, make fun of ethnic minorities or the disabled and can even threaten our economic and social security without impunity.

One hundred years ago the world was a very different place. The Great War was coming to an end. Women were beginning (albeit slowly) to secure their right to vote. In the midst of growing academic interest in management science and concern for the implementation of policy a group of esteemed scholars, activists and practitioners, including Professors E.J. Urwick and Sidney Webb, met in London to discuss what was to become the Joint University Council. Today we need a new vision and purpose to reflect current challenges and to ensure we maintain our relevance for the next 100 years.

It is important that this new vision and purpose reflects real life. After all, public administration is where politics meets real life: it’s the delivery of political decisions in local settings. The term has been cause of much academic debate in the last thirty years. Academics have argued over traditional public administration, New Public Management and, more recently, New Public Governance. There have been debates about whether New Public Governance exists? Is it a useful concept? How does it relate to New Public Management and Public Administration? Do New Public Governance and New Public Management represent paradigm shifts or do they represent a continuum? But often these debates serve little more than to increase citations before the next REF cycle comes along. Really, we need to set our ambitions a bit higher than that.

Meanwhile our public servants, who increasingly cannot afford their own homes, are actually trying to make a difference to communities through effective service delivery in face of political and media contempt for their work and for the people they serve. They want to know what works, they want validation for the work they do, they want to know how they can do it better. From this perspective some academic debates can appear to be little more than academics picking fluff from their own navels. Academics are no longer at risk of being seen as out of touch – that is the common perception.

That’s why our centenary event will not be a traditional academic conference. Yes, the academic community will be an important part of it. We need those voices. But even moreso we, as academics, need to listen. That is why it is being arranged as an unconference. But in order for this to be effective we need YOU to come, to get involved, to speak up. This is likely to be the most significant meeting for social and public administration since that very first meeting of the JUC in 1918. Just like that first meeting we need academics, activists and practitioners to come. We need people who care. So sign up now, invite others, and let’s set the agenda for the next 100 years.

Click here to help set our agenda for the next 100 years.

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Save Scottish Public Administration

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Interview with Steven McCabe, Master of Public Administration (MPA) student.

This post first appeared on the QMU website: https://www.qmu.ac.uk/study-here/student-stories/steven-mccabe-master-of-public-adminstration-20180518/

I was looking for a course that would build on my previous qualifications and work experience, as well as increase my understanding of the issues facing public sector professionals and how to best overcome these and deliver high quality public services. This was part of my continuing personal development through my job, but I also wanted to study a course that would allow me to progress in my career as well. Initially I considered studying an MBA, but the direct relevance of the MPA to my work, along with the course focus on social justice and equality really attracted me to study at QMU instead. The fact that the MPA was a taught course, with weekly classes where students could learn from each other’s experiences and engage with each other was a major factor in me choosing to study the MPA at QMU. The programme leader’s knowledge and understanding of the issues facing the public sector was another reason for making this course selection.

There is a level of commitment required to study the MPA, and the workload at times has been quite high, especially as I’ve been working full-time as well as studying. It has been stressful at times, especially when I’ve had really busy periods at work and there’s been assignments due for the course, however, it’s never been completely overwhelming and the level of support, from both tutors and other students, has been fantastic. There’s a real togetherness and camaraderie between students on the course, with the part-time students especially understanding the pressures we’re all facing whilst juggling full time work with study. Through the course we’ve all supported each other, ensuring that we’re all coping with the demands of the course. We regularly chat outside of university if we have anything we’re unsure of. The course really has been a great way to network and make new friends!

The tutors on the course are all extremely knowledgeable and happy to spend time with you if you have any additional questions or need help or support.

This will be my third university degree and the overall learning environment on the MPA at QMU has by far been the most supportive, engaging and inclusive that I’ve experienced.

The course is constantly evolving and improving, with the tutors and the course director especially taking a real interest in the thoughts and needs of students. There have been numerous changes to the course in the two years that I’ve studied the MPA that have been made after suggestions or comments from students. There are regular tutor/student meetings to discuss what could be improved upon or what’s working well, and feedback is always well received and fully considered. Students on the MPA have a strong voice and can directly influence how the course is delivered.

There is also the opportunity for students to go on a fully-funded (well, apart from beer money!) field-trip to Brussels, as part of the MPA. This really brought students and course tutors together as a group, and had a real positive impact on how we supported each other and learnt from each other. There was an important practical element to the trip as well, with it being a great opportunity to see how the things that we’ve been taught in class were being applied in the European Parliament. The field-trip definitely enhanced the engagement and understanding I had of the concepts that we learnt about during classes.

The course has absolutely equipped me with additional skills and knowledge which have been directly applicable in my job. The course also has a focus on improving students’ leadership skills, with students undertaking a leadership exchange through ACOSVO as part of this. I feel, quite strongly, that my performance at work was improved by studying on the course, and becoming aware of wider issues in public administration that I perhaps might not have been aware of prior to studying the MPA. I’ve also been lucky enough to have progressed to a new job while studying on the course, and have just started a job as a Policy Manager with the Scottish Government. I can honestly say that the MPA definitely helped me develop my career and played a part in me getting the job.

 

You can find out more about the MPA on our course page here: www.edinburghmpa.co.uk

 

Make sure to LIKE our Facebook page here: www.facebook.com/EdinburghMPA

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Academic Posts Available at QMU

Queen Margaret University are currently recruiting to the following posts:

  • Senior Lecturer in Marketing
  • Senior Lecturer in Finance and Accounting
  • Lecturer in Business Management
  • Lecturer in Finance and Accounting

We are one of only two universities in Scotland to run an MPA programme. We also have a professional doctorate in public administration (the DPA). These are very successful and growing parts of our activity within the Division of Business, Enterprise and Management. As such we really need people who can work across our core business management programmes as well as the MPA and supervise both PhD and DPA students. Please circulate this message to anyone you think might be interested in applying.

I am also happy to discuss these opportunities with anyone who may be interested in applying. The closing date for all applications is 19 February.
Full information including how to apply can be found here: https://www.qmu.ac.uk/footer/vacancies/vacancies/

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The Scottish Approach to Public Services

I currently have a PhD bursary available on the topic of ‘The Scottish Approach to Public Services’. The Scottish Approach has been defined as encompassing three principles in the design and delivery of public services:

  • Coproduction
  • Assets-based approaches
  • Improvement methodology

Lots has been written on the topic (for example, Cairney 2014, Cairney et al. 2016, Coutts and Brotchie, 2017; Elvidge, 2011; Ferguson, 2015; Housden, 2014) but previous research is often based on explorations of the general principles of the Scottish Approach and understandings of how they influence the policy making process. Less has been written about how the Scottish Approach influences practice in localised contexts such as, for example, local government, higher education or social work.

As such I thought it would be interesting to investigate how the Scottish Approach may influence practice. I didn’t want to be prescriptive about which practice setting the research should focus on but I have provided a few examples which will hopefully spark some thoughts. Previously I have written about why do a PhD (click here to go to the blog post) but ultimately if you are passionate about education then doing a PhD is a fantastic opportunity to study a topic in great depth over a three year period.

The QMU PhD Bursary covers:

  • a full waiver of tuition fees;
  • an annual stipend of £14,553 lasting 3 years for full-time study; and
  • a research budget of £2,000 to cover project expenses and travel.

For more information on the bursary see here: https://www.qmu.ac.uk/study-here/postgraduate-research-study/graduate-school-and-doctoral-research/phd-bursary-competition/ 

For more information on the research topic see here:  https://www.qmu.ac.uk/media/4209/cass-phd-bursary-topics-2018.pdf 

 

References:

Cairney, P. (2014) “The Territorialisation of Interest Representation in Scotland: Did Devolution Produce a New Form of Group-Government Relations?”, Territory, Politics, Governance, DOI: 10.1080/21622671.2014.952326

Cairney, P., Russell, S. and St Denny, E. (2016) “The ‘Scottish approach’ to policy and policymaking: what issues are territorial and what are universal?”, Policy & Politics, Vol. 44 (3), 333–50.

Coutts, P. and Brotchie, J. 2017. The Scottish Approach to evidence. A discussion paper.
Alliance for Useful Evidence. Carnegie UK Trust.

Elvidge, J. (2011) Northern Exposure. Lessons from the first twelve years of devolved
government in Scotland. Institute for Government. London.

Ferguson, Z. (2015) What is the ‘Scottish Approach’?, Alliance for Useful Evidence, London. Available online at: https://www.alliance4usefulevidence.org/what-is-the-scottish-approach/

Housden, P. (2014) “This is us: A perspective on public services in Scotland”, Public Policy
and Administration, Vol. 29 (1), 64-74.

 

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MPA Research Seminar Series 2018

We are hosting a research seminar series at Queen Margaret University over this semester. The topic of the seminars is ‘Public Leadership in Turbulent Times’. The seminars will bring some of the top scholars of public policy and administration to Edinburgh to discuss their latest research.

 

Each of the speakers is listed below. Click on the links to reserve your FREE place:

Megan Mathias, Cardiff University, “Senior Civil Servants as Leaders – evidence from Wales and New Zealand’”, 22 February 2018 10-12pm

Lucy Hunter Blackburn, University of Edinburgh, “The pros and cons of a powerful narrative: the case of free tuition”, 1 March 2018 10-12pm

Russ Glennon, Nottingham Trent University, “Unpacking and Negotiating Accountabilities in UK Local Government” 8 March 2018 10-12pm

Sarah Cooper, University of Exeter, “Gender in Healthcare: The Politics of Fertility” 15 March 2018 10-12pm

Muiris MacCarthaigh, Queen’s University Belfast, “Never waste a crisis: Public sector reform and policy entrepreneurship in Ireland“, 22 March 2018 10-12pm

Bert George, Erasmus University Rotterdam, “Too much of a good thing? Nonlinearity in public management” 29 March 2018 10-12pm

Peter Matthews, Stirling University, “Queer(y)ing policy studies: understanding the experience of public service delivery for LGBT+ people“, 29 March 2018 3:30pm-5:30pm

 

You may also download this pdf which lists all seven research seminars here: Seminar Series – Schedule of Speakers.

 

The MPA Research Seminar Series has been sponsored by the JUC Public Administration Committee (PAC) – the UK’s Learned Society for Public Administration. All research seminars in this series are free to the public and will be of interest to anyone motivated by public service.

 

You can reserve a FREE place here: MPA Research Seminar Series – Eventbrite Link. Please note that you must reserve a place at each individual research seminar in order to be guaranteed a space. All seminars are taking place at Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh. Information on how to get to our campus is available here: https://www.qmu.ac.uk/location-and-getting-here/

 

The call for proposals is now open for the next funding round for both the PAC Research Seminar Series and PAC Small Research Grant. Details are available here.

 

NB: Tea and coffee will be provided.

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Would you like £2,000?

Would you like some money to support a small piece of research or to deliver a research seminar series? Are you an Early Career Researcher or Doctoral Student wanting to differentiate your CV? Would £2,000 help you develop a small piece of research – potentially as a launch pad to a larger scale grant application?

 

Increasingly academics are being encouraged to apply for external funding – consequently many of these funds are becoming more and more competitive. At the JUC Public Administration Committee our role is to support the future of public administration research and teaching. As such we have developed these two new funding competitions:

 

If you are an early career researcher, doctoral student or even established academic within public administration we would love to hear your ideas. You should be within an institutional member of PAC or have attended the PAC Annual Conference in order to be eligible to apply. To find out about joining PAC please email our secretary: sandraodelljuc @ yahoo.co.uk

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Guest Blog: Postgraduate Students Face Funding Pressures

By Woody Whittick, MPA student at Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh

The Scottish Government have made many strong commitments to education – not least of which is the commitment to ‘free’ education for undergraduates. It has also expressed a commitment to increasing postgraduate student numbers (see here) (particularly for people sharing protected characteristics such as disability). As part of this support for postgraduates there are loans available to support both the payment of fees and living expenses: http://www.saas.gov.uk/full_time/pg/index.htm

I applied to do the Master of Public Administration (MPA) at Queen Margaret University in order to enhance my future career prospects, which have been set back by incurable health problems. However, I was shocked to discover that although postgraduate students elsewhere in Britain can access living costs (maintenance) loans whether they study full- or part-time, in Scotland only full-time postgraduates can receive maintenance loans.

This rule has put me in a catch-22 situation. Multi-systemic symptoms worsen with extended or cumulative sitting, so I can’t manage full-time work or study, or both part-time work and study. Years of limited earnings have prevented me accumulating savings. I need to study part-time, but can’t afford to without a maintenance loan.

This seems deeply unfair as the decision to only allow full-time students to receive a maintenance loan is disproportionately detrimental to disabled people and to women. We still live in a society where women are statistically more likely than men to have responsibilities for childcare or adult dependants, and therefore may be less able to study full-time or save in advance for living expenses. They may, like me, have to give up part-time work in order to study.

I have received some support from Queen Margaret University which has helped. But this doesn’t solve my living expenses problem. I have searched widely but unsuccessfully for alternative maintenance funding.

In the end I have started the MPA as a full-time student – facing no other feasible option. Unfortunately however, within a few short weeks my neurological symptoms worsened. I feel this proves my point – the current rules are discriminatory towards those with disabilities. This seems to run counter to both the Equalities Act and Human Rights legislation. However, a ‘statutory authority exemption’ applies, meaning I cannot take legal action to redress discrimination using the Equality Act. The only legal recourse is via Judicial Review, at a likely cost of c£30K+. Again, I face a seemingly insurmountable hurdle.

The current status of my case is that I am awaiting the outcome of an appeal to SAAS. I hope that the concerns I have raised, as summarised above, will be taken into account and I will be given the support I need to continue my studies. In the meantime have established that the rule originates from a 2015 statutory amendment. I discovered that the regulations have been successfully challenged at Judicial Review on the grounds of age discrimination, resulting in the upper age limit for loans being raised. I seem to be the first person to have highlighted that these regulations are also discriminatory in other ways. I also now understand that although the government has committed to undertaking Equality Impact Assessments before implementing new legislation, it seems they failed to do so in this case.

Unless my appeal to SAAS is successful and the rule is overturned (at least for me individually) I will probably have to withdraw from my studies completely. Even if SAAS find a way to apply discretion and uphold my appeal, that will not change the rules for other people. It is an incredibly frustrating situation – and one of the ironies if this is that I am not even asking for grant funding – I am only asking for a loan which I would then be required to pay back.

Thankfully there does seem to be a lot of political support for this issue. My local MSP and I have both raised concerns with the Cabinet Ministers for Education and Equality, with cross-party support from the shadow Liberal Democrat, Labour and Conservative MSPs with portfolios for Education or Equalities, who have all raised concerns to John Swinney through the appropriate channels. We await his response and hope that others will not face the same challenges and frustrations that I have encountered in seeking to complete postgraduate study.

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Electioneering versus Governing

The next UK General Election will be held on 8 June 2017 – just over 2 years since the last one despite the establishment of 5 year parliamentary terms under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011. The argument made by Prime Minister Theresa May was that this was,

“…the only way to guarantee certainty and security for years ahead”.

Yet will this guarantee certainty? Well, one certainty seems to be the ever increasing popularity, by politicians, of elections and referendums. A quick search shows how many elections have been held across the UK since 2010 with a particular peak of elections and significant referendums since 2014.

Elections since 2010:
2010 UK General Election
2010 English Local Elections (32 London boroughs, 36 metropolitan boroughs, 76 second-tier district authorities, 20 unitary authorities and various Mayoral posts)
2011 UK Voting System Referendum
2011 Welsh Devolution Referendum
2011 Northern Ireland Local Elections
2011 English Local Elections (36 Metropolitan boroughs, 194 Second-tier district authorities, 49 unitary authorities and various mayoral post)
2012 Scottish Local Elections
2012 Welsh Local Elections
2012 English Local Elections (28 English local authorities, three mayoral elections including the London mayoralty)
2012 London Assembly Elections
2013 English Local Elections (27 non-metropolitan county councils, eight unitary authorities and 2 mayoral elections)
2014 European Parliament Election
2014 Scottish Independence Referendum
2014 Northern Ireland Local Elections
2014 English Local Elections (32 London boroughs, 36 metropolitan boroughs, 74 district/borough councils, 20 unitary authorities and a number of mayoral elections)
2015 UK Parliament Election
2015 English Local Elections (36 metropolitan boroughs, 194 second-tier districts, 49 unitary authorities and 6 mayoral elections)
2016 English Local Elections (124 local councils and 4 mayoral elections)
2016 Scottish Parliament Election
2016 Welsh Parliament Election
2016 Northern Ireland Assembly Election
2016 London Assembly Election
2016 EU Referendum
2017 Scottish Local Elections
2017 Welsh Local Elections
2017 English Local Elections (27 county councils, 7 unitary authorities, 1 metropolitan borough, 8 mayoral elections)
2017 UK Parliament Election
NB: Also 31 by-elections between 2010-2017 and many community council elections.

It could be argued that this is a good thing. It shows the vibrancy of our democracy and the increasing voice of citizens in influencing government policy. However, it poses many significant challenges for those who work in public policy and administration: the cost of electoral administration; the opportunity cost of elections and the risk of voter fatigue.

Not only do elections involve a lot of political planning and campaigning but they also require significant administration including the training and management of polling staff and count staff. An election is not something that can easily happen on a whim. It requires a lot of planning, coordination and, importantly, investment.

A second issue with elections is that they divert attention away from the development of public policy and the delivery of public services. Since 2014 in particular there have been significant votes involving all UK Political Parties including the 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum, the 2015 UK General Election, the 2016 EU Referendum and now the 2017 General Election. There is a huge opportunity cost involved in these major election campaigns – whilst campaigning and voting takes place our political representative, public officials and public service professionals are subject to purdah rules and must divert their energies from public service delivery to the major operational challenges of an election.

The other significant cost of this is that it risks leading to voter fatigue and apathy. The immediate reaction from many to the UK General Election announcement was fairly muted. It isn’t currently clear how the public will respond to the announcement and what the resultant turnout will be. But what is clear is that at some point the votes must be counted – and the government(s) must govern.

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Practising What We Preach

The current academic literature on public administration is full of research on collaborative governance, integrated services and community participation. This research reflects a reality where boundaries between public, private and Third Sectors are increasingly blurred and where services are being redesigned to better meet rising public expectations at the same time as facing the challenges of austerity and Brexit. These themes are all discussed in modules such as ‘International Trends in Public Administration’ on our MPA programme.

From the earliest discussions in developing the MPA programme I knew that I wanted to include the ACOSVO Leadership Exchange programme as part of our postgraduate degree. There were some important reasons for this: 1) I knew that ACOSVO was an excellent organisation that reflected many of our values; 2) I felt it was important that a public services degree has a strong link with the Third Sector; and 3) I wanted to ensure that the MPA had an appropriate blend of theoretical content and practical application.

All of this was in line with the aims of our MPA programme to enable learners to:

  • Build on their professional experience by engaging critically with, and reflecting on, themes and issues in public administration in order to better shape the public service landscape of tomorrow.
  • Critically evaluate the theories and practice of public administration as a tool for public service improvement.
  • Be critically reflective leaders who contribute to the social and economic sustainability of the communities they serve.

Having been through the first year of this programme I am delighted with the results. Firstly, it has been a pleasure to work with ACOSVO. As part of the development of the programme I went on a leadership exchange myself and found the experience invaluable. Some of my colleagues have since done the same and have reported similar valuable learning experiences.

What has been most rewarding about the experience has been the feedback I have received from students. This has been overwhelmingly positive. It has proven difficult for some to find exchange partners, particularly given that our students are conducting the Leadership Exchange as part of the MPA. However, everyone has been matched and all have really enjoyed working with their exchange partners.

Comments I have received include from one student who noted that she was reassured to see just how much the theory of our programme related to practice in different organisational contexts. Having seen public administration from both the theoretical and practical perspectives gave her a new found appreciation of the subject and the value of her learning on the programme. For another student the experience in working with his exchange partner had also proven just how much the challenges facing our public services cut across organisational boundaries. He planned to continue the exchange process beyond his studies and has set up a number of ongoing meetings with his exchange partner to continue the learning. Finally, another student had noted that he had been partnered with a senior manager within a Third Sector organisation. Coming from the public sector he had little prior experience of the Third Sector and admitted that he had previously held views of Third Sector organisations that proved to be out of step with reality. He was now open to the idea of a future career in the Third Sector thanks to his experience in the exchange programme.

My overall view is that our MPA programme could not achieve it’s aim ‘to enable students to critically evaluate the theories and practice of public administration’ without the strong industry links that have been facilitated through our partnership with ACOSVO. And so much current public administration research and practice involves collaboration – it would be a nonsense if we didn’t practise what we preach!

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