I have five children, all of whom have left home and are living independently. One of the few positives of the pandemic for me is that it’s been the first time I’ve not regretted the absence of school-aged children in my house.
But, of course, I’ve seen how hard the pandemic has been for the younger generation. At a time when they should be spreading their wings, it’s as though life screamed to a halt, amidst lonely bedsits, furlough and remote University learning.
In generational contrast, in April this year I embarked on the experience of starting a new role in lockdown. I recommend it, not only because it’s become something of a badge of honour for those who’ve done it but because of the warm welcome I received from PHSO.
Raising standards in public service delivery
In the strangest of times, it’s been an enormous privilege to have the opportunity to make a contribution here at the heart of the effort to raise standards in public service delivery. I originally applied for a role at PHSO more than ten years ago. Since then I’ve spent four years on the board of the Legal Ombudsman, so this has been something of a destination workplace for me.
I was immensely attracted by the combination of delivery (casework) and strategic impact, having worked for organisations which had one of these functions but not the other. PHSO is driven by the same values which have coloured all my recent roles – access to justice, public interest, working across the community.
I found an organisation which had reinvented itself in remote working and was facing the challenge of the impact of lockdown on casework numbers, while keenly horizon-scanning for what’s likely to come in terms of complaints. These could range from the treatment of patients during the pandemic, to the administration of furlough payments and beyond.
A new strategy for a post-COVID world
My immediate task has been reframing our new corporate strategy for the next three years. The PHSO Board approved a draft strategy in 2020 following a public consultation. They then concluded that in the unprecedented context of the pandemic, a one-year bridging strategy would enable the organisation to gain a better perspective before setting its direction for the next three years.
This is such an important moment for PHSO, as it seeks to build on the extraordinary achievements of the last strategy. Our recently published annual report and accounts tell a powerful story of achievement in the face of great challenge.
The next three years need to move forward from there. PHSO’s Board is keen to build on standards of delivery but not to temper its ambition. We want to work with partner organisations in all sectors to improve access to our service and to be a voice of influence in public service standards.
In a way, this new strategy comes at a time in the journey of PHSO comparable to that of the younger generation who have faced COVID-19 on the cusp of the next stage in their lives. The organisation has laid the foundations of what it wants to be, and now it has its sights set on reaching its potential.
I see it as a moment of reckoning. Just as things were never the same after the Second World War, we have to look at our young people and also older people, the disabled, those who lost jobs, those who were cared for and those who did the caring. We need to make sure that they get the public services they deserve.
We’ll be consulting the public on our new strategy this autumn and look forward to hearing your views. Follow us on Twitter or visit our website for updates.