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It's About Intelligent Partnerships
Source: http://www.publicservice.co.uk/feature_story.asp?id=21943
Source Date: Monday, January 21, 2013
Focus: Institution and HR Management
Country: United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Created: Jan 21, 2013

Public sector leaders need to think more radically if they are to achieve real transformation of services, delegates at Public Service Events' Managing Change conference were told. David Allaby reports

After 30 years in health and care services, Jackie Lynton was probably not alone during the past year in thinking "I can't go through another change programme". Even to a seasoned leader of improvement and change, the prospect of further reform in the NHS looked too daunting.

"I wondered whether it was time for me to go," she told the Managing Change – transforming the public sector conference. "But I reconnected with my values, re-examined my purpose. Asked why am I in the NHS? Why am I still here?" Lynton, lead associate with the NHS Institute for Innovation and Improvement, was able to reaffirm her core principles for working in the service and found that after 26 years of large-scale change and motherhood, she had something to offer – but in setting out how to create the right focus and motivation for transformation, she cautioned "not all change is improvement".

"It seems a tall order but not a reason for despair," Richard Heaton – the lawyer responsible for drafting Acts of Parliament and, since August, also permanent secretary at the Cabinet Office – told delegates at this Public Service Events' conference. He presented a clear view of what was driving public service change and described a number of effective weapons that could be used in response.

While demand, public expectations and an ageing population were on the increase, public finances were "not in good shape", he said. The deficit was being closed and it was worth noticing what a massive achievement it had been to provide public services within the financial constraints. "It gives me confidence that we can do the next bit," he said.

Using resources more efficiently was first on his list of actions, in particular in procurement. At his first team meeting as a Home Office lawyer in 1991 he had asked if they could have computers on their desks. "The team leader said it might happen in your lifetime but not in mine," he recalled.

"Government is always playing catch-up. Now it was learning to use a market much more innovatively. It is a great time to think more radically. We can't afford to be behind the game, expensively procuring rubbish computer systems."

The sector could take advantage of a different range of commercial models and partners. In the age of privatisation there had been a tendency to give most of the work to big corporations. "Now there is a real feeling that the private sector, with whom we can and must work, is more diverse, more responsive, more agile." If the public sector was intelligent with its partners there was hope.

More data was emerging into the public domain as an influence on behaviour and better life choice decisions as well as making services more accountable.  Provision of online access to public services was "as cheap as chips" but the user experience, said Heaton, still lagged behind that offered by the commercial sector. While targeted funding of service outcomes, place-based budgeting, big society and philanthropic capital were all weapons with potential, he challenged public service leaders to be ready to spot the next innovations.

The challenge from Ben Grinnell, director of event sponsors qedis, was for a shift in emphasis in service contracts from "cheap to run" to "cheap to change" – something that was still not valued in negotiations. He said over the long term, change was unpredictable, in many cases continuous change was needed, and there were dangers that in sourcing big change programmes they could collapse under the weight of their own process. A strong, flexible professional skills base was essential for the public sector to deliver successful change.
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