Achieving better value for money and improved outcomes in government and public services

This series of three roundtable seminars, held in conjunction with Microsoft, explored how to achieve better value for money and improved outcomes across the public sector. Each seminar focused on a different area: education, health, and Whitehall and local government. The seminars were led by Kevin Brennan MP, Shadow Minister for Schools, Norman Lamb MP, Chief Parliamentary and Political Advisor to the Deputy Prime Minister, and Rt Hon Margaret Hodge MBE MP, Chair of the Public Accounts Committee.

A series of common themes and central issues emerged across the three events. As the public sector continues to grapple with spending cuts and the Government advances its Open Public Services agenda, the events raised some excellent ideas and case studies for achieving genuine transformation across government and the public services.

Some of the key ideas raised were:

· While technology can make a big difference in improving services and value for money, it is not an end in itself.

· Technology enables the public sector not just to cut costs but to adopt fundamentally different ways of doing things. Services can be provided in much more efficient ways; citizens can interact with government and public services through an entirely new approach that puts the user at the heart of the experience. This is not just about the back office but the front line of service delivery, and this kind of transformative approach is necessary to generate significant improvements in outcomes and reductions in cost.

· Outcome-focused services – usually defined in terms of the user – raise a big issue. This new model relies heavily on citizens engaging deeply, regularly and easily with government and public services in a way that has not traditionally been the case. That engagement challenge is one of the biggest obstacles to transformation, but it is also a challenge that technology is well-placed to help solve.

· Putting users and outcomes at the heart of public service delivery also entails new thinking about who delivers those services. Private sector providers, charities and social enterprises are leading much of the innovation in this space and will often be best placed to deliver services, raising questions over funding models and commissioning. Technology will also empower government and public services to work with partners in new ways to improve the quality of their offerings and reduce costs.

· One important issue is whether the capacity exists within government to deliver on these possibilities – or if not, whether it can be developed. Incentives for civil servants and public sector workers, commercial skills and capabilities around outcomes-based commissioning and procurement are all areas that will need to be addressed if government is to realise the full potential of transformative service delivery.

The ideas and case studies discussed at the events suggest that, if these obstacles can be overcome, citizens will benefit from more flexible, responsive and customised public services than could even have been imagined just a few years ago. At the same time, government will be able to reduce its costs, helping the public sector to meet the fiscal squeeze and allowing resources to be focused on those who need them most.