The Week, 17 November 2017

17 November 2017

In his report today on unlocking value in the public sector, Sir Michael Barber made the case that for government to succeed it must, above all, get the best possible value from every tax pound spent. That means enhancing the productivity of the public sector with “common sense” and “systematic” improvements.

Kate Laycock, Senior Researcher

Reformers of the week

Sir Michael Barber, as above.

Steve Rotheram, Mayor of Liverpool, for pledging a skills revolution in Liverpool. Degree-level apprenticeships will be rolled out alongside a single UCAS-style regionwide portal for apprentices.

Reactionary of the week

Rt Hon Boris Johnson MP, for opposing the closure of Uxbridge police station rather than supporting modernisation and digitisation of the Metropolitan Police Service. In May 2017, an average of just 2.9 crimes were reported to the front desk at Uxbridge each day.

Good week for…

Tech skills

On Tuesday, the Government doubled the number of specialist technology visas available to high-skilled workers entering the UK from outside the EU.


On Wednesday, labour productivity in the UK improved at its fastest rate for more than six years in the third quarter, following a particularly bad start to the year.


Also on Wednesday, the Government launched a GovTech Catalyst team to oversee a new £20 million fund to help tech firms deliver innovative fixes to public sector challenges.

Bad week for…

Fare dodgers

On Tuesday, Transport for London announced that a digital sentencing system with paperless evidence-provision is speeding up due process for thousands of fare dodgers in London.

Thrifty policy making

Also on Tuesday, the Ministry of Justice admitted wasting £5 million on an overambitious tagging scheme for offenders.

The North South divide

On Thursday, the Centre for Cities think tank found that cities in the South East of England are twice as productive as those in the rest of Britain.

Quotes of the week

“Taken together, the weaker forecasts, commitments made and public spending pressures are easily enough to wipe out Mr Hammond’s fiscal rule. Some say he should do that since the government can borrow cheaply and a 3 per cent budget deficit, for example, is not large compared with recent years. But the chancellor and his allies are conscious that there is a difference between breaking a fiscal rule when there is no alternative and allowing one to slip when the headline economic news has not been that bad. It would look like he had no grip on the nation’s finances at a crucial time for Britain.”

George Parker and Chris Giles, writing in the Financial Times on Tuesday.

“Many tech business and entrepreneurs have great ideas that could revolutionise our public services but struggle to navigate their way through the public sector to get those concepts off the ground. The GovTech Catalyst scheme will create a ‘front door ’into the public sector for tech businesses with exciting new ideas and solutions that would otherwise get lost.”

Jacqueline de Rojas, President of techUK, speaking on Wednesday.

“Incentives in the public sector have traditionally been, to put it mildly, ambiguous. Ministers’ performance tends to be judged on the size of the budget they negotiate with the Treasury, rather than how much they deliver or innovate. Civil servants tend to get bigger rewards and more status for managing more people or bigger budgets. Departments don’t call time on budgets that aren’t delivering. They rarely, if ever, go to the Treasury with ideas for spending less, even if, through innovation, doing so could improve outcomes. Some years ago, when I volunteered to return, in mid-year, part of a budget I had realised I wouldn’t need, the relevant Treasury officials almost fell off their chairs in surprise—no-one ever did that, they commented.”

Sir Michael Barber, in Delivering better outcomes for citizens: practical steps for unlocking public value, on Friday.

Reform’s Week


On Tuesday, Policing Insight published a blog by Emilie Sundorph, Researcher at Reform, on the urgent need for the police complaints system to improve.


On Tuesday Reform held three different events:

A panel event, in partnership with Deloitte, on the annual State of the State publication. Panellists included Rebecca George OBE, Deloitte UK Public Sector Leader, Andrew Haldenby, Director at Reform, Bernard Jenkin MP and Matt Warman MP.

A roundtable, in partnership with Palo Alto, led by Sir Ian Andrews, Senior Independent Director, NHS Digital. The event explored how to secure the NHS in its digital transformation.

A panel event, in partnerhsip with KBR, on the future of the UK border in the House of Commons. Speakers were Tony Smith CBE, former Director-General of the UK Border Force; Gavin Robinson MP, Shadow DUP Spokesman for Defence and Home Affairs; Maisie Borrows, Researcher at Reform and Tim Ellis, Director, Government Services, KBR.

Following the event, Tim Ellis, Tony Smith CBE and Alexander Hitchcock, Senior Researcher at Reform, wrote blogs on themes that emerged from the event.

On Friday, Reform held a roundtable event, “Application of Responsible AI: opportunities for policing”, led by Stephen Kavanagh, Chief Constable, Essex Police. The event begins a major partnership with Accenture raising ideas on the opportunities of digital technology for the UK economy and society and on the potential barriers to their adoption.

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