Budget cuts and welfare reforms mean many will approach the year with trepidation at best. The impact of housing benefit changes which come into effect in April and the new universal credit are seen by many of those working to alleviate poverty as near-apocalyptic.
But there are more constructive changes on the way, too, driven by factors other than simple cost-cutting. The Scottish Government's consultation on integrated care could reshape the way services intervene to help vulnerable people. A new body, Children's Hearings Scotland, will take over the running of Scotland's unique system of youth protection and justice, police and fire services are being reorganised, patients will get new legally backed waiting time guarantees from the NHS, and the Scottish Government is reviewing the way the public can gain access to new medicines.
Meanwhile, will an expert review of the use of methadone bring an end to the polarised and politicised debate over the best way to help people addicted to drugs? A gambler wouldn't bet on it.
We asked leading figures in the public sector what they make of it all, and what they expect the new year to bring for their part of the public sector.
Detective Chief Superintendent John Carnochan, director of the Scottish Violence Reduction Unit
I am hugely optimistic, because the early years task force is starting to deliver things we can touch and feel. I think we all realise that intervening early can make a difference to people's resilience and wellbeing, and that this is important for Scotland's future.
The new single police force comes in on April 1 and I'm really excited about that because Chief Constable Steve House is absolutely relentless in relation to violence reduction.
There are still challenges ahead. There will be fewer jobs and more welfare cuts. We see the problems with that, particularly with the guys in gangs – it makes it difficult to get them jobs. But we have to look at prevention – it can't just be about building more prisons and locking people up.
Martin Sime, chief executive of Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations
Unemployment, the rising cost of living and cuts to welfare herald a challenging year for communities across Scotland.
Major welfare changes are set to cause chaos to the tight budgets of the poorest people. These members of our communities are being hit hardest as they face an endless cycle of appeals, bureaucracy and misinformation.
Charities and third-sector organisations will keep working to meet record high demand for their services as they pick up the pieces in 2013. We want to see an end to the widening divide between rich and poor, haves and have-nots. Many people across Scotland are outraged by what is happening, so the third sector will be launching a society-wide campaign, encouraging good citizens to do what they can to help, but also demanding change.
David Liddell, director of the Scottish Drugs Forum
Top priority over the coming year has to be intensifying efforts to reduce the appalling rate of drug-related deaths in Scotland, which remains among the highest in Europe. Naloxone, the emergency antidote for opiate overdose, is being rolled out in communities across Scotland and appears to be playing an important role in saving lives.
Being in treatment also provides protection against overdose, so we must get more people into services. Access is much quicker now – quality of treatment has to be the next focus.
Last year was, unfortunately, dominated and diverted by narrow, moralistic, unproductive and, frankly, tedious controversies about methadone. My new year wish is that our collective energies are focused on using best-quality evidence to inform the design and delivery of the full range of services required to make an impact at all stages of the recovery journey – with basic humanity centre stage.
Professor June Andrews, director of Dementia Services Development Centre in the School of Applied Social Science, University of Stirling
Money will be a key issue in 2013. There will come a time when it will not be possible to squeeze any more out of the system. Screening for dementia would help, but even that is not going to work unless the hospital and its systems are designed to avoid harming patients.
The quality of care is abysmal in some parts of the UK and is compromised by people not doing the simple, low-cost things that would make a difference. Once we are doing that, we can start to wonder if there is enough money, but until then, we are just leaking cash from the system.
I'd like to see all dementia care more focused on what research says, and rather less on consultation, focus groups or responses to lobbying. We now know what makes a difference. We need to stop policy-makers, regulators and professionals just making it up about dementia as they go along.
Giles Ruck, chief executive of Foundation Scotland [the recently renamed Scottish Community Foundation]
We are concerned with helping philanthropists invest in Scotland to build strong and resilient communities.
I'd like philanthropists to consider three things in 2013: First, be open-minded to the unbranded charities and non-sexy causes – these projects are often well rooted in communities. While the existence of foodbanks in Scotland (and in Britain) is astonishing to many, it will be a sad day indeed if they have to become "billboard causes" and engage celebrity names to endorse their services.
Second, be prepared to invest in the core of a charity – not just funding the interesting project costs at the expense of the critically needed manager or administrator.
Third, visit a project that you admire. It is remarkable what a difference small organisations can make.
Charities need to start thinking about the "return" they generate. In difficult times it's too easy for project leaders to get caught up looking inward. There is a lot to worry about. This is exactly the time to look outward. Look and you will find new supporters, funders and trustees.
Peter Kelly, director, Scottish Poverty Alliance.
This year is when the dire predictions that many campaigners have been making about poverty in Scotland will begin to hit home. Welfare changes (or benefit cuts) will affect thousands. The Coalition Government has sought to divide those who are losing out because of austerity. In 2013 we can expect further attacks on so-called "skivers", more pressure on disabled people, more alleged "facts" about benefit fraud. By stigmatising people on low incomes, setting them apart from the "strivers", the Coalition's attempt to fundamentally change our welfare system will be so much easier. In the short term we may not be able to change UK policies on welfare but, unless we challenge the myths and stereotypes about poverty we will find change far more difficult in the longer term.
Ross Martin, policy director, Centre for Scottish Public Policy
The next two years will be a period of change and challenge against the context of a constitutional debate. But it is important for public services generally and local government in particular to look at the way they deliver services. The model has been the same for more than 25 years, but there is an opportunity now, given what is happening in the wider world to personalise public services.
Some councils are already doing so, such as North Ayrshire, which has reshaped its school transport for children with special needs by asking parents to do it. Instead of hiring a fleet of taxis, they have told parents they will pay them to transport their own children, a brilliant example of doing things in a way which is more cost-effective and personalised.
Budgetary pressure is a key driver of innovation. The police are a fantastic example, because a huge amount of responsibility is devolved right down to divisional level. Could that template work in other services, such as health and education? Why can't you compare the role of a head teacher or hospital director to that of a divisional commander in the police?
Mike Kirby, Scottish secretary, Unison
Key issues include the integration of care, self-directed support and personalisation. These are large-scale and, in the case of integration, complex changes to service delivery. Across all public services, a reduced staffing complement is trying to cope with an often increasing workload. This isn't good for services or staff. Staff in public services have suffered wage freezes and many have also seen large increases in pension contributions, particularly in the charitable and voluntary sector. Staff in public services did not cause the financial crisis – it is wrong that they are being made to pay for it.
Bernadette Monaghan, national convener, Children's Hearings Scotland
Volunteer panel members play a key decision-making role within the Children's Hearings system, which simply couldn't operate without them. For the first time, they have a national voice: as their national convener, it's my job to represent them and promote a greater public awareness of the skills they have and the difference they can make.
I am passionate about the changes in the Children's Hearings (Scotland) Act 2011, which will take effect from June 24. We will have one national Children's Panel for Scotland, underpinned by accredited training and national standards. This will ensure that listening to children, young people and their families is central to all we do and that we provide them with a high quality of service wherever across Scotland they attend their hearing.
Robert Aldridge, chief executive, Scottish Council for Single Homeless
There are five changes on my wish list. First, we need to ensure that care leavers are not made homeless. As corporate parents, local authorities must ensure that no care leaver ever becomes homeless. What parent would allow that?
Second, I'm hoping for a last-minute change of mind over the Government's "bedroom tax", one of the most insidious of the welfare reforms.
Third, the suggestion by David Cameron that under-25s should not get housing benefit must be knocked on the head. It would cause huge problems of homelessness among very vulnerable people.
Fourth: It is a real worry that housing is not yet a key partner in discussions about health and social care integration.
Finally, the requirement of local authorities to provide support for the homeless, effective from June, is exciting, but we need to make sure that isn't at the expense of homelessness-prevention and support for people with limited finances.
Sir John Arbuthnott, author of the Arbuthnott Report and president of the Royal Society of Edinburgh
April 2013 will see the new police and fire authorities established and operating, and this represents a major change to public service provision in Scotland. The pace of change is gathering momentum and there are a growing number of notable examples. Local authorities in the Clyde Valley are also taking forward the health and social care collaborative for joint commissioning of adult and child services, and a major co-operation programme between five authorities has involved the creation of a number of large-scale waste disposal services in the west of Scotland.
But the most important development in service change in 2013 will be the outcome of the Scottish Government consultation on its major proposals on the integration of health and social care. These will have enormous significance for Scotland's older people. The most vulnerable members of society require a much more joined-up approach.
Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland
Teachers and lecturers face a difficult year, but will remain focused on trying to deliver a service to young people in our establishments.
We are pleased the Scottish Government has committed itself to maintaining teacher numbers. We also need to rectify the problem with supply teachers. Shortages show there are still problems in relation to short-term supply when current terms mean retired teachers simply don't regard it as worth their while.
In the curriculum for excellence, teachers are working flat out to rescue a flawed process. There are still major concerns about how ready schools will be to support the first cohort to experience the new qualifications.