Ready or Not? Taking innovation in the public sector seriously

Geoff Mulgan - NestaMy thanks to Nick for pointing me towards Geoff Mulgan’s pamphlet on public sector innovation, which has a couple of examples of political innovators that I though were interesting:

Antanas Mockus, the mayor of Bogota, is a remarkable example from this decade. Mockus has used theatre and spectacle to get results. He sometimes wears a Superman costume, and hired over 400 mime artists to control traffic by mocking bad drivers and illegal pedestrians. He launched a ‘Night for Women’ when the city’s men were asked to stay at home and look after the children (and most did) and even asked the public to pay an extra 10 per cent in voluntary taxes (again, to the surprise of many, 63,000 did).

While that doesn’t strike me as Sir Steve’s style, I can certainly remember one former cabinet member dressing as Elvis to make some sort of policy point, which I think that was a one off.  More seriously it seems clear to me that we do have the conditions locally where innovation and risk taking can take place, look at Love Lewisham from my time on the council or more recently the idea of a 20 mph zone for all residential roads.

It’s not really a surprise that Geoff points to our local chief executive Barry Quirk as an example of an innovative public servant, which certainly accords with my own experience of working with him.  But I’m sure that Barry would be first to point to a culture both political and bureaucratic which allows Lewisham to be one of those places where a level of innovation is embraced.

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About Andrew Brown

I live in Lewisham, South East London, and spent 9 years as a Labour councillor in the borough between 1997 and 2006.
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13 Responses to Ready or Not? Taking innovation in the public sector seriously

  1. rp says:

    Its a nice idea Andrew, and one that should and could be embraced, but I regret to say that my impression of the Council, in general, not in particular, is one of punitive measures rather than any other form of education. For instance, speed bumps, or more precisely ‘speed cushions’, rather than slowing traffic down they encourage people to drive up the middle of the road and it bemuses me that anyone could argue they’re anything but irritating, but thats a small point.

    On the other hand, the big gestures (sorry, I’m getting back to the Gateway) are bullied through even though its perfectly obvious the benefit will only be to the developers (and it’s interesting to note that in a recent press article there was concern that Taylor Wimpey (as they are now called) are considering withdrawing from the project – why? because of its long-term financial viability of course. Financial viability outweighs whatever benefits the project may bring and will be the decider however much icing is slapped on the cake.

    Back to the 20mph zones, nice, but how would they be enforced I wonder, bigger speed bumps perhaps?

  2. Andrew Brown says:

    The deal, as I understand it, is that in return for a 20 mph zone all the speed humps would go. How that’d be enforced I don’t pretend to know, but I’m certain that it’s something that Sue and Steve have thought about alongside officers.

    The other point I’d make about speed humps/cushions is that at the moment what they look like and how they’re deployed is as much to do with what the DfT say as what a local council wants, and that speed cushions are a compromise to spare the health of those that drive for a living – bus and ambulance drivers in particular.

    You might want to read all about it and if so here’s a FOI request that looks relevant and here’s guidance I found on traffic calming.

  3. Ross says:

    “The deal, as I understand it, is that in return for a 20 mph zone all the speed humps would go”

    there’s a heap of planning notices going up round my way about new speed bumps, speed cushions, and speed tables that are shortly to be installed, which i presume, based on the comment above, if the 20mph thing goes ahead they’ll all be taken away again. is this an example of the ‘innovation & risk taking’ to which you refer?

    rp’s bang on the money with regards the bigger gestures

  4. Andrew Brown says:

    I don’t know Ross, is it a Lewisham maintained road or one that TfL have responsibility for?

    As for the wider question, I tend to think that financial viability isn’t such a bad thing to aim for in these big developments. But that’s no doubt the New Labour hack in me.

  5. Andrew Brown says:

    Right, having now read the relevant section of the Select Committee Report (page 33) I’m less certain that speed humps will be taken out if and when the zone is implemented. The recommendation that went to Steve said:

    The select committee believes that the benefits of a 20mph safety limit should, where practicable, be extended to all residential roads in the Borough. It notes that the Mayor of London is to carry out a feasibility study for introducing a 20mph limit on all roads in London and recommends that the Mayor of Lewisham bids for Lewisham Borough to be a pilot for this. The committee believes that 20mph limits could be achieved using signage rather than physical features, and that all opportunities to secure the necessary funding for this, such as from TfL for being a pilot borough for a London-wide scheme, are taken.

  6. rp says:

    I shall be looking with interest at the ‘speed cushion’ question as machinery is scraping and relaying my road as I (write), I wonder if they’ll replace the ‘cushions’ that did *nothing* to reduce speed whatsoever.

    Its the ‘where practicable’ which is the killer of course, gives a handy loophole.

    But, its all chicken feed. . .

  7. ross says:

    ” I don’t know Ross, is it a Lewisham maintained road or one that TfL have responsibility for?”

    it’s in the rushey green renewal area so i presume it’s a lewisham maintained road

    “I tend to think that financial viability isn’t such a bad thing to aim for in these big developments”

    where do you draw the line with that kind of outlook though – there’s a few basic human needs that most (reasonable) people would agree should be public goods – health, education, housing, retirement provisions, food etc.. i realise you’ve got to follow the freud/purnell line as you say with regards to things like this, but don’t you ever have a hankering for putting social justice ahead of market dependant outcomes

  8. Andrew Brown says:

    I’m not sure I follow what you’re implying about “putting social justice ahead of market dependant outcomes”.

    For me the fact that a number of the things you mention are available free at the point of demand is a basic tenant of a decent society.

    Do they need to be provided by the same provider? Not in my book.

    Should they be rationed? To a greater or lesser degree yes I think they must be; and that means they to need to be financially viable.

    If that means I’m with James Purnell well that’s fine with me.

  9. ross says:

    i’m interested in your approach to the provision of social public goods like housing, education, retirement provisions, health care etc. having to be ‘financially viable’, it does have the rather sinister undertone to it that has been emitted quite regularly recently by the likes of freud & purnell

    what would be your approach to determining whether the provision of health care/treatment, education, housing etc.. to someone was financially viable or not?

    financial viability usually means an outlay on something being more than covered by expected future income, i’d be very wary about talking about the provision of societal public goods in such terms, especially at the micro level. i do hope therefore that your comment was a freudian slip (pun intended)

  10. Andrew Brown says:

    I’m not trying to be sinister. And I’m not expecting a return on the money; but public goods are always going to be limited by choice and necessity – choice because not everyone will want to use them, necessity because we limit the amount we spend as a society on public goods.

    As for Freud are you sure you don’t mean Furedi? Makes a bit of a mess of your pun, but if not then I’m afraid I don’t know who you mean. And if that is who you mean then he’s not someone that I have very much sympathy for.

  11. ross says:

    i’d hate to see it when you try then!

    still not sure how you can shoe horn ‘financial viability’ into your position though.

    i note though that your starting point is an axiomatic position of limiting what is spent on public goods – fair enough resources are limited etc. etc.., however this position starts to look a lot less admirable when you see how easily billions & billions can be pulled out the bag to spunk on military adventures or favourable tax schemes for the rich, or when you look at the ten’s of billions each year lost in tax revenue through large scale tax avoidance/evasion, and also the billions lost by large scale professionaly run criminal welfare scams, and finally not to mention the wasted billions poured into PFI companies coffers for poorly designed & implemented projects (and the additional costs of borrowing suffered by taxpayers just to get the govt debt off it’s books, along with the hundreds of millions spent each year on legal & accountancy costs on these schemes) . yet against this backdrop the only initiatives taken to ‘save money’ is yet an other assault on an already severely disadvantaged section of society (the freud report, purnell’s implementation of it,etc..), i read somewhere the other day that the amount of money lost to individual welfare cheats was something like £26m. now i’m not saying this is small change nor that it should be tolerated, but it’s peanuts compared to the hundreds of billions lost due to the things mentioned above.

    i mean freud

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/actionnetwork/F?thread=3944678
    http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/f77b6414-cd31-11dc-9b2b-000077b07658.html

  12. Andrew Brown says:

    The example I had in my head was around the local NHS, which says it’s spending £400k more than it’s budgeted for every week.

    That’s not financially viable, so the question becomes what can be done to change that within the limits of what’s politically and medically acceptable.

  13. ross says:

    it says it’s spending 400 grand more a week than what it ‘has’

    your starting point appears to be a blind acceptance of the level of sufficiency of that original pot of money allocated to it, and if it spends more than that then it’s not financially viable

    my starting point is to look at the size of that original pot of money and clamp down on all the things i refered to above so that that pot of money can be made large enough to cope with the demands placed upon the NHS in order so that it can continue to provide the range of services it was originally set up to provide

    this doesn’t mean that i support wastage & poor use of resources which is clearly a problem at present, but this shouldn’t be used as a smokescreen to further roll back the provision of healthcare or indeed to use it as an excuse to usher in a further round of privitisation & transfer of value yet again from the public to the private sector

    take today for example a commission has been setup to ensure a sufficient level of competition is in existence in relation to work required by primary care trusts (and allows private providers to appeal if they believe they have lost out on contracts because their was a lack of competition) personally i don’t see competition in healthcare as the route to the best use of resources – as with any kind of competition, it leads to massive duplication of resources and thus under utilisation of said resources, so we get to the position where productive capacity exists and a need to use that capacity exists, but the two things don’t get brought together efficiently due to the market being the method of mediation between the two things

    even capitalism itself (for all it’s rhetoric about the benefits of competition) has an internal dynamic which leads towards monopoly situations, as it even realises that in the long term lots of resources all competing to do the same thing represents an inefficient use of those resources, and that dynamic leads to increasing levels of mergers & takeovers in a move to reduce costs which arise due to the duplication of effort & resource

    the ongoing move towards privitisation & private sector provision within the NHS will lead to a far greater wastage of resource on a much larger scale than is currently seen at the moment due to poor management, but that will be tolerated as, with anything, if it’s a transfer of value from the public to the private sector, that’s ok

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