08 June 2018
I’ve worked in public service delivery for 30 years and every day I see the painful impact of an underperforming and, at worst, failing system. Our public sector is one of the most centralised – monopolised – among advanced democracies. Our services are less than the sum of their considerable parts: the able and dedicated public servants within them. We have some of the best hospitals and schools in the EU, but also some of the most expensive and least effective. We’re being let down as people who need those services and who work in and with them. However, to conclude that more state control and direction is the answer means you’ve asked the wrong question and misunderstood the problems.
Many words have been written about Carillion’s collapse, its financial difficulties, and the immediate implications for schools, prisons and hospitals. The aftershock is ongoing for small and medium sized businesses waiting for payment, and employees hoping for future stability. These are direct costs. We may never be able to measure the cost of diverted resources in Whitehall or City Hall, from managing Brexit or supporting vulnerable people to designing a sustainable rescue package.
A high profile contract failure places yet more strain on an already straining system but once the initial press coverage subsides the memorable label for our collective experience file is ‘Carillion Collapse’, not ‘System Failure’, or ‘Death Knell for the Status Quo’. This is our opportunity to rethink everything about public services: what we do, when we do it, how we do it, and, crucially, who does it.
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