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The UK Institute for Government yesterday (March 28) launched what is being called ‘the most radical modernisation of public services in Britain since the birth of the Welfare State.’

The document, “Manifesto for Better Public Services,” is a collaboration between leading entrepreneurs and academics; it estimates that £46 billion per annum in public spending could be saved. This is anticipated to be achieved through eliminating wasteful administration and duplication – something that has been much maligned in the public sector for many years. The private sector, it is widely felt, has so far embraced the opportunity more fully through automation, but that’s not to say there are not pockets of local public service throughout the UK that have completely turned around, for example, their procurement processes, and central government initiatives like digital marketplaces have massively improved the lives of buyers and suppliers, while opening up transparency and effectiveness.

But this is different – while political parties have in their manifestos promised x amounts of cash injections into public services over the years, this is a whole new nation-wide approach, and change in cultural mindset, that has the power to transform how we do public sector business.

The key recommendations in the manifesto are:

  • Moving public sector and its suppliers to open book accounting – opening up and publishing all current operational data, roles, functions, processes, systems and costs to identify where money goes and highlight duplication and inefficiencies within and between organisations.
  • Developing a “Lego block” approach to services, adopting a set of standard “plug and play” parts, mirroring best practices of Global internet-era organisations such as Amazon and Netflix and creating a shared digital public infrastructure fit for the twenty-first century.
  • A 40% phased reduction in duplicated administrative and managerial processes, functions, roles and systems in our public services.  Savings to be achieved by implementing new digital business models, delivering an estimated £46bn per annum for re-investment into frontline services.

You can read more on Open Access Government which explores more extensively the background to the work, and explains how the authors propose a Public Value Index to deliver unprecedented transparency, giving citizens the opportunity to assess expenditure against outcomes. And quotes one of the co-authors as: “We need to radically rethink our ideas about public value and where the public sector can best focus its resources. The existing large-scale local reinvention of administrative and management functions, processes and systems creates little or no value for frontline workers or citizens. It takes precious resource from the frontline, preventing services from joining up properly to deliver better outcomes for citizens and public sector workers alike. Our taxes provide the essential basis for investment, but the return on our collective investment as a nation, in terms of better public services and outcomes, is frustratingly opaque.”

The Institute for Government has also published a video in which the authors Dr Mark Thompson, Senior Lecturer in Information Systems at Cambridge Judge Business School and Strategy Director, Methods Group, and Dr Jerry Fishenden, Co-Founder and Principal Stance Global and Visiting Professor at the University of Surrey discuss how modernising public services using digital technology can really make a difference, and whether the new approach goes far enough. You can view that here.

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