Do we need LEGO-style government?

To deliver “the most radical reshaping of our public services since Beveridge”, a new digital innovation ‘manifesto’ lays out ways to shave at least £46bn off Whitehall costs annually

Posted 28 March 2018 by Gary Flood

How about this for a new form of Her Majesty’s Government public services delivery:

  • An additional 1 million key workers by “eradicating” “waste”
  • The release up to £46 billion a year for investment in frontline public services by “opening up and standardising processes” between public sector organisations
  • Improve outcomes and reduce duplication via a LEGO block style of working with central government processes and technology based on a set of standard “plug and play” parts, mirroring best practices of Amazon and Netflix and creating a “shared digital public infrastructure fit for the twenty-first century”
  • Give citizens a new way of holding government accountable at “multiple levels” by implementing a transparent ‘public value index’.

Radical enough for you? Then you are in good company – as the ideas are outlined in a new document launched by two independent thinkers at the London offices of think tank The Institute for Government (IfG), Better Public Services: A Manifesto.

In the study its authors, Dr Mark Thompson and Dr Jerry Fishenden, say digital innovation is key to reform – but also that they are simply following in the steps of their 1940s predecessor, arguing that the architect of the British Welfare State identified needless duplication that has crept back in.

Before the Beveridge report, seven different government departments were directly or indirectly involved in providing cash benefits of one kind or another, creating a demeaning and fragmented service for anyone trying to claim benefits.

His reforms ended that, in many instances – but now, says the IfG, the public sector has come to duplicate many of its functions and processes in hundreds of places – but that “the scale of the inefficiencies and poor citizen experiences now dwarf those that so concerned Beveridge”.

Thus Thompson, senior lecturer at Cambridge Judge Business School: “Digital technology has been a game-changer for many modern organisations [who] have dramatically improved their frontline services by completely rethinking and redesigning the way they operate.

“In contrast, much of our public sector still looks and feels very old fashioned: technology is often used simply to paper over the cracks of their existing processes and services rather than to rethink, redesign and improve them.”

His co-writer, Fishenden, co-founder of Stance Global and former Chief Technology Officer of Microsoft UK , adds, “We need to radically rethink our ideas about public value and where the public sector can best focus its resources.

“The existing large-scale local reinvention of administrative and management functions, processes and systems creates little or no value for frontline workers or citizens. It takes precious resource from the frontline, preventing services from joining up properly to deliver better outcomes for citizens and public sector workers alike.

“Our taxes provide the essential basis for investment – but the return on our collective investment as a nation, in terms of better public services and outcomes, is frustratingly opaque.”