Tightening the public purse strings does not have to mean regression in our wellbeing. The key to achieving this is arguably time. Time is the currency of relationships and enabler of public services. It is the answer to the question of how we can improve our wellbeing despite an imminent squeeze on public spending. Time is an important factor in seeking to make a difference to our wellbeing through public services delivery and interactions on the frontline. In general, people desire better services and better relationships, both of which are in turn pivotal for achieving some higher wellbeing outcomes. Time in public services is therefore of paramount importance for achieving the intervening outcomes of (i) quality service relationships between frontline agents and service users, and (ii) quality services that make a positive difference to people’s lives.
Despite massive outlays of public money, the amount of time on the frontline has not always increased proportionally. Where there have been attempts to “purchase” more time for the frontline in the form of extra personnel, some of these investments have somehow frittered away through the introduction of a raft of counterproductive policies that have only added layers of bureaucracy and strips of red tape that eventually sapped productive time out of the system. Not only can we no longer afford these massive investments, the need to do more with less has never been so pressing. The heart of the solution lies in getting frontline service agents – teachers, the police, prison governors, probation officers, doctors, nurses, GPs, health visitors, maternity staff, carers, youth workers and social workers among many other public sector personnel – to spend adequate time with service users and in enabling that time to be spent more optimally and productively.
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