The 2020 Public Services Commission - 10 years on

Covid-19: What next for public services and the role of the State?

11 June 2020

6 minute read

About this collection

The 2020 Public Services Commission ran between 2008 and 2010. It was a major inquiry into how UK public services could respond to the significant challenges of the decade. Chaired by Sir Andrew Foster, Commissioners were drawn from across the political spectrum, local government, academia, and from the public, private and third sectors.

This publication is a collection of essays from those who were part of the original Commission (see end for contributors and collection). Edited and collated by CPP, the essays explore what next for public services and the role of the State within the context of the ongoing Covid-19 crisis. The collection provides a key point of departure for policy makers and practitioners into the required response to the current crisis and beyond.

Responding to the crisis and building for the future

The Covid-19 crisis has shone a spotlight on the social solidarity and activism that can be mobilised in the UK, but we need to harness this momentum as the cornerstone of our recovery, resetting the relationship between citizen and state. In this context, building on the contributions to the collection, CPP recommends:

  1. Investing in the infrastructure that can support community cohesion.
    The UK’s social infrastructure will need to be rebuilt if we are to enable our communities to be more resilient. The social activism that has been sparked through the response to Covid-19 provides a new starting point for this. But it will need careful nurturing and significant financial support to fulfil its potential. For example, micro funding for community businesses, grants for local volunteer care networks and enhanced support for local arts, culture and sports clubs at the centre of many communities.
  2. Devolving social as well as economic functions to enable integrated public service and economic recovery.
    If we are to avoid repeating the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, we will need substantial and prolonged investment in vulnerable communities. This must be tailored, coordinated and integrated at the place level, including investment in education, early years and children’s services, employment support and skills development, and community health workers (e.g. midwives, district nurses, pharmacists and mental health professionals).
  3. Treating people as agents of recovery.
    The phased re-opening of the economy needs to be shaped by an informed dialogue between citizens, communities, places and the government about how we should collectively approach and manage risk. This dialogue needs to be inclusive to ensure the recovery and future growth allow as many people as possible to contribute and benefit from economic prosperity. Examples such as the Bristol One City Plan process, which convened residents, employers and civil society partners to develop a shared vision for the city, should be a template for places as they develop their Covid-19 economic recovery strategies.

Community spending decimated in the run up to Covid-19, undermining local resilience

To accompany the collection, CPP has developed a new measure of community spending which includes per head spending on services vital for supporting community relationships and social cohesion: libraries, open spaces, recreation and sports, Sure Start, and services for young people across local authorities. Such spending was totally decimated in the decade leading up to the Covid-19 crisis - falling by 60% in comparison to total local authority spending falling by 30%.

In response, CPP finds that civic action - which includes volunteering, giving to charitable causes and civic participation – fell by 5% in the pre-crisis period. The West Midlands, which has experienced some of the highest death rates from Covid-19, saw the largest fall in civic action in the years before the crisis – 10%.

Headline stats

Community spending

  • The largest fall in community spending took place in the North East (from £154 per head in 2010–11 to £51 per head in 2018–19)
  • The region with the lowest per-head spending is the West Midlands, with just under £40 spent per head in 2018–19. This compares to £56 per head in London.

Civic action

  • Civic action fell 5% in England between 2013-14 and 2018-19.
  • The starkest falls in civic action were in the Midlands – 10% fall in the West Midlands and 7% fall in the East Midlands.
  • The South West has consistently had the highest level of civic action by region (top in both 2013–14 and 2018–19) though it has also experienced a decline.

Community spending in £s per head by region, 2010–11 and 2018–19 Source: CPP calculations

The collection

Read the complete collection here or individual essays through the links below


  • Ben Lucas, Founder and Managing Director, Metro Dynamics
  • Henry Kippin, North of Tyne Combined Authority (writing independently)

Social productivity: the future is all around us

  • Victor Adebowale, Chair and Founder, Collaborate
  • Jeff Masters, Senior Head of Practice, Collaborate
  • Anna Randle, Chief Executive, Collaborate

Citizens’ power: a missed opportunity

  • Greg Parston, Visiting Professor, Institute of Global Health Innovation, Imperial College London

Building a coalition for change

  • Matthew Taylor, Chief Executive, RSA

A troublesome legacy: more centralised, less preventive services

  • Professor Nick Bosanquet, Professor of Health Policy, Imperial College

Where next? Rewriting history and the role of the state

  • Charlotte Alldritt, Director, Centre for Progressive Policy

Social productivity in a lost decade

  • Paul Buddery, Director of Strategy, Volunteering Matters (Feb 2017– May 2020)

It is not enough to have good ideas: actions come harder

  • Bridget Rosewell, Commissioner, National Infrastructure Commission

Public services and localism before and after Covid-19?

  • Ben Page, Chief Executive, Ipsos MORI

Online or in-line? Ten years on

  • Tim Kelsey, Senior Vice President of Analytics International, HIMSS

An ageing society: how has public policy responded?

  • Geoffrey Filkin, Former Chair of Centre for Ageing Better