Sustainable growth and public service reform: two sides of the same coin

10 May 2012

Britain will struggle to return to sustainable growth and maintain vital public services unless old barriers between business, public service leaders and citizens are pulled down, argues a wide ranging report from the 2020 Public Services Hub at the RSA.  

Business, Society and Public Services calls for leadership and policy making that will bring together state, business and citizens as collaborative partners through the establishment on new shared spaces, shared values and the unlocking of shared resources.

The report concludes that this will not happen on its own, or out of wishful thinking and notes that "optimistic rhetoric about social partnership is already running ahead of the reality". The report calls for the:

  • Establishment of new shared spaces: The report looks at the Zero Carbon Hub, set up by the National House-Building Council with seed corn funding from DCLG, which has successfully taken responsibility for implementing the Government's commitment to make new homes carbon neutral by 2016.
  • Forging of new shared values: Public Managers and businesses need to think beyond service delivery and profit, and consider their contribution to social and economic growth. The report considers the role of FE colleges in drawing together SMEs, entrepreneurs, public service leaders, local political leaders and major businesses to catalyse local growth.
  • Unlocking of new shared resources: Resource challenges present potential risks and opportunities for public, private and civil society sectors. The report looks at Sunderland City Council's 'virtual' back office for local entrepreneurs, and the Open Data Institute.  When resources are scarce across the board, new types of financing or IT solutions are crucial.

Henry Kippin, one of the authors of the report, said: "Public service reform and economic growth are two sides of the same coin, but they risk pulling in different directions without an operational framework and a shared agenda.  Our evidence shows a clear need for new 'shared spaces' to develop policy and practice.  But they require an active, enabling state and entrepreneurial public services."    

Heidi Hauf, one of the authors of the report, said: "We found exciting examples of innovation, but the challenges are huge.  Co-operation is crucial, but so is leadership.  Where government was prepared to provide this - as it did in the case of the Zero Carbon Hub - policy improves and everybody benefits."

A new shared agenda

Business, Society and Public Services, argues that a cross party consensus is emerging around the need to re-think both the role of the state in the market, and the role of the market in delivering public services, but that a new shared agenda should include:
  • Creating new growth - entrepreneurship and private sector innovation are key to the government's goal of 'rebalancing' the economy.
  • Delivering public services - as public sector monopolies are broken up, the role of private and third sector enterprise, and collaboration between them in public service delivery is likely to expand.
  • Fostering behaviour change - the government's 'responsibility' deal is encouraging voluntary pledges from business to tackle social problems related to their products or services.
  • Less command and control - a commitment to rowing back from a culture of government target-setting and top-down regulation and management.

Download the Business, society and public services: a social productivity framework report (PDF, 1.4MB)