Published by Alexander Hitchcock on 13 February 2017
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This conference brochure contains articles covering themes from across the conference from leading figures in public services including:
2017 marks Reform’s 15th birthday. I hope we have succeeded in that time in focusing attention on the ideas that will improve public services, to the benefit of every citizen of our country, and keep them financially sustainable at the same time. Our third annual conference today has exactly that objective.
We are thrilled that Rt Hon Ben Gummer MP, the Minister for the Cabinet Office, is able to give us so much of his time. As well as his keynote speech, Ben will join our first panel, “government at your service”. This follows his speech to Reform in October 2016 when he described Brexit as a “cry”, from voters, “about what they felt about the state of government and their relationship with it”. He explained: “if you were to ask the public whether it feels served by government, they will tell you that it is precisely the opposite. In too many of their interactions with the state, the public is made to feel as though they are the servants of the government, rather than the other way around.” (In this way Brexit has brought to the forefront the themes of personalisation and consumer choice that Tony Blair’s government promoted so excitingly in Reform’s early days.)
His fellow panel members will explore this idea in detail. Jonathan Slater will give his experience of successful reform in two departments of state (education and defence). Alison Wolf will present the latest academic thinking. Daniel Searle and Ali Parsa will explain how digital technology can bring the consumer revolution to public services, with all of its implications for ease of use, absence of bureaucracy, artificial intelligence and falling costs.
So much of the challenge of reform is implementation. For that reason, our second panel will present examples of Whitehall success in delivering reform in practice. Bernard Jenkin MP and Richard Bacon MP have overseen the Government’s work on civil service reform and efficiency for many years. Rt Hon Michael Gove MP led major reforms to the Department of Education during his time as Secretary of State. Jane Cunliffe oversees public spending at the Treasury and will describe her work on the current Efficiency Review in particular.
As we prepared this conference, the Office for Budget Responsibility projected that current entitlements to pensions and healthcare will require the next government to raise taxes by £84 billion, in today’s money, if the national debt is ever to return to the levels seen before the financial crisis. The third panel will directly address the question of the affordability of the welfare state. Steve Webb considered these long-term costs as Pensions Minister. Paul Johnson and Sumita Shah are experts on public finances and the Whole of Government Accounts respectively. Kirsty McHugh will address welfare provided to people below retirement age.
15 years in, the Reform agenda has never been more relevant. I welcome your attendance today and look forward to your close engagement in our work throughout this Parliament.