Bold new approaches to public service delivery and government are required, but central government departments are failing to innovate. Senior civil servants should look to local councils and the police to find out how to do innovation. This is the major finding from a report from the Whitehall Innovation Hub.
Over the last ten years, good policies have often failed to deliver because of a lack of interest in implementation in Whitehall. Tackling poor policy implementation depends on leaders committed not just to deliver more of the same, but who are motivated to transform government in such a way that it becomes more strategic and innovative. It is now recognized that merely making operations and systems more efficient does not necessarily produce the more innovative services.
The report urges civil service mandarins to look to local government and the police for insights into innovation leadership. Councils have improved their performance dramatically since 1997. Most London boroughs and cities around the country are now rated ‘good’ or ‘excellent’ by the Audit Commission. Some councils are leading rural access to services, providing innovative social care, using technologies to support communication with citizens or raising finance for local regeneration using innovative methods.
In addition, most local public employers have become less insular and are actively engaged in local partnerships. Many have transformed the way local services are organised. Some regional partnerships such as the London Collaborative, Cumbria and Yorkshire and Humber are evolving new governance frameworks and other forms of systemic innovation through collaborative and strategic leadership.
The dominance of performance management as the only driver of change in central government is resulting in a lack of innovation across the public system and is creating an obstacle to those who are transforming organisations. New practices and governance models are not evident, even where they have successfully emerged, because they aren’t captured by the current performance management framework.
The report concludes that public sector reform is no longer a domestic matter of service transformation but of innovative government and governance, which in turn demands a radical rethink of how governments relate to the public.
The report calls for an end to the rigid distinction of local and national government and for new civil service recruits to be exposed to the wider world of public service and social innovation in order to bridge the divide between the policy and practice.