Blueprint for government modernisation calls for ‘Lego block approach’

A new Manifesto for Better Public Services has outlined how government can take advantage of the Internet revolution by eliminating similar duplication and waste in public services.

The manifesto was unveiled at the Institute of Government in London by Mark Thompson, University Senior Lecturer in Information Systems at Cambridge Judge Business School.

The initiative calls for using a ‘Lego block’ approach to services in which government departments utilise off-the-shelf ‘plug and play’ systems that are increasingly readily available over the internet, rather than spending time and money to develop bespoke systems for each department. These commodity-type systems would handle such functions as licensing, booking, registration, payments and case management.

If properly implemented, says Thompson, the plan can eventually save £46bn a year and thus fund an additional labour pool of one million key workers in frontline services ranging from teaching to healthcare and policing.

“Forward-thinking organisations around the world are using digital technology to become more efficient and offer their customers better services,” said Thompson. “On the face of it there is absolutely no reason why government cannot do the same – but it will need to be willing to think about reorganising itself more radically than it has been to date.”

The manifesto argues that government too often patches up problems using 20th century systems and approaches – rather than rethinking and redesigning service provision for radically different, Internet-enabled times.

Among other proposals, the new manifesto and accompanying Green Paper – authored by Mark Thompson and two colleagues, Jerry Fishenden of tech consultancy Stance Global and Will Venters of the London School of Economics – calls for:

  • Moving all public sector organisations and their suppliers to open book accounting, thereby publishing data, roles, functions and costs in order to highlight duplication and inefficiency between organisations.
  • Establishing a “Public Value Index” that would allow citizens to assess expenditure against value criteria, so we can better understand what “good services” and outcome are from the perspective of both citizens and key workers.
  • Creating a shared digital public infrastructure by mirroring successful organisations like Amazon or Netflix.
  • Reducing administrative and managerial processes by 40 per cent, thus freeing up money for frontline services.

The manifesto argues that the need for greater efficiency in public services is made even more acute by an ageing UK population that may consume half of government revenues by 2061.

Thompson acknowledges that, as with all ‘legacy’ organisations, modernising government at the scale envisaged in the manifesto will run up against entrenched interests, and inertia. He therefore advocates starting small with a “pioneer” group of public service bodies eager for efficient reform, rather than a “grand plan” imposed from above.

The manifesto also includes calls for a cross-party consensus and clarity of purpose not seen since the end of World War II.

“We have a rare chance right now – given the state of technology and unease over the current state of public services – to really transform the way government works in order to shift resources to frontline services from massively duplicated back-office functions,” Thompson said.

A livestream of the manifesto launch event and presentations can be viewed in full here.

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