Genuinely joined up government, strategic leadership rather than micro management and a real commitment to innovation are all needed if government is to effectively improve public services.
Sir Michael Bichard KCB, Director of the Institute for Government, laid out his strategy for a new government in a lecture that formed the centrepiece of this year's Capstone Showcase for the LSE's fast-growing MPA Programme.
An audience of MPA students, senior UK government officials, business leaders and LSE staff heard Sir Michael argue that current Whitehall thinking is too rooted in a culture of targets and service delivery. What we need is a government that "is almost certainly smaller but with a stronger focus on things that matter and a greater emphasis on devolution, empowerment and facilitation."
The UK government ranks 14th in the World Bank's most recent table of government effectiveness and faces a number of challenges to improving its performance. These include immense pressure on the resources available to fund public services, growing public expectation for quality, increasingly complex issues that cross bureaucratic boundaries, and the growth of an ageing population that is demanding of services but not contributing to the cost.
Although the temptation is often to "bunker down" in the face of pressure, said Sir Michael, the government should use the crisis as a stimulus to "reshape, even reinvent government and to re-engineer the relationship between national and local government and to refocus genuinely all of our efforts on the citizen."
Sir Michael Bichard heads the Institute for Government, a new body supported by top civil servants, which is at the forefront of innovative research into thought leadership and learning in government. The Institute is collaborating closely with LSE's Public Policy Group on a programme of seminars and sabbatical fellowships showcasing the best social science knowledge. The Institute also hosted one of this year's MPA Capstone projects. These are applied research projects addressing directly a public policy problem, undertaken by MPA students with distinguished government and private sector organisations. Other Capstone clients this year have included the Bank of England, the Cabinet Office Strategy Unit, DFID, the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development, HM Treasury, the Inter-American Development Bank, the National Audit Office and the World Bank.
The lecture outlined the changes needed to improve government effectiveness with innovation and joined up services highlighted as key to sustaining quality and delivering better value for money. But, warned Sir Michael, "connectivity cannot be a 'bolt on'. It has to become an integrated 'must have'. The genuine development of integrated policies for the elderly, the development of joint budgets, shared indicators and common objectives and a willingness to measure success and impact by the quality of outcomes as perceived by clients, patients or citizens rather than the elegance of the process."
Sir Michael also outlined the need to rethink government priorities with government seeing its primary role as providing strategic leadership rather than the micro management of services. But, he conceded, this does require higher levels of public trust in political leaders than is currently evident. The capacity to influence behaviour, to commission outcomes rather than focus on method of delivery, and future forecasting were also highlighted.
In addition to his role at IfG, Sir Michael Bichard is Chairman of the Design Council. He was appointed chair of the Legal Services Commission in 2005 when he introduced a range of reforming measures aimed at modernising the legal aid system. He was also chair of the educational charity Rathbone.
Click here to download a transcript of Sir Michael's lecture