Sector faces 'triple front' of challenges according to new research.

Emergency services may be compromised if short-term cost savings are prioritised over longer-term needs, according to the findings of a new report published today by Zurich Municipal and Ipsos MORI.

According to the report, Tough choices: different perspectives on the long term risks facing the public sector and wider civil society, two thirds (64 per cent) of public sector leaders agree that short-term budget challenges will prevent them from addressing longer term risks effectively.

The research, which canvassed the views of the general public as well as those in charge of delivering public services - including senior leaders of emergency services - revealed a consensus that spending cuts represent the major strategic challenge to the sector. Half (49 per cent) of public sector leaders fear that budget cuts may impair their organisations' ability to deliver public services. Many also have concerns that spending reductions could prompt financial loss (28 per cent) and reputational damage (22 per cent).

Funding is not the only risk faced by public sector organisations - the report points to a 'triple front' of challenges: in addition to the impact of budget cuts, increasing demand for services and uncertainty about implementing the new government's reforms (such as the Big Society) could also trouble public service delivery over the next five years.

The report states that most leaders of emergency service organisations are worried about delivering core services, which may impact on their ability to handle 'black swan' events such as terrorism.

"Unquestionably, now is a crucial time for the public sector, with major decisions being made about how and where to drive cost savings," said Andrew Jepp, Director of Public Services at Zurich Municipal. "Faced with the understandable need to focus on short-term delivery and cost reduction, it is difficult for public sector managers to pay sufficient attention to the significant long-term risks ahead, and the need to plan for them now.

"These challenges require a careful approach focused not just on the immediate issues facing public services, but also on the impact of some of the long-term problems as well. Without this dual focus, there will be considerable risks and costs ahead.

"We therefore urge all organisations across the public sector, as a matter of priority, to ensure their response to today's challenges takes into account tomorrow's needs."

Ben Page, Chief Executive of Ipsos MORI, said: "Doing cuts well and avoiding massive service failures now stand out as key risks following the Spending Review; public sector leaders are not confident about the outcome."

The report identifies six core areas of major risk in total for public service providers. These are:

  • The long-term implications of short-term decision making
  • A reduction in service breadth and quality
  • Emerging gaps in the Big Society
  • Maintaining a productive and skilled workforce
  • Reputational damage
  • Increased risk-taking and potential claims growth.

A full copy of the report can be downloaded at:  


Posted 8th November.