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The 2020 Public Services Trust Blog

Monday, December 15, 2008

Guest Blog by Matthew Taylor Chief Exec of the RSA

By Ben Lucas

To the 2020 Public Services Trust to give a seminar on public service reform in a messy world. I didn’t have far to go as the 2020 PST is housed at the RSA. In my role as CEO of the RSA I am focused on how we can remove the barriers to social progress, and getting public services right has to be a part of that. But, from my time in Government, I know how hard it is to actually make change happen. At the end of the day we need to find a way in which citizens and communities can be much more self-reliant. The RSA networks team are developing good thinking on the ways in which citizen engagement works.

But back to the 2020 Trust. It’s always a bit worrying having to present my ideas surrounded by such a bunch of experts. To name but a few we had Naomi Eisenstadt, David Albery and Ben Jupp – an impressive round table. But thankfully they were all extremely generous and thoughtful. It was a good discussion.

I’m concerned that too much of the current debate around public service reform is in unhelpful ‘left’ or ‘right’ bunkers. My central idea is that if we take thinking from cultural theory and apply it to how we think about public services we can get a much richer and more productive account of change. In this way we would see four accounts of social interactions namely hierarchical, egalitarian, fatalistic and individualistic. The important insight is that rather than work out the ‘right’ form for any given situation, we need to try and keep each of them in play. Because each of these types of social interaction involve legitimate and different interest groups. In this way we can move away from a zero sum paradigm where for every winner there’s a loser to a much more plural form of engagement. I am indebted to Christopher Hood for this idea.

I also think we expect far too much from public services. Should we really expect schools to be able to solve our problems of inequality when wider society can’t? That seems to me an impossible ask.

The 2020 Trust comes at exactly the right time. With experts, practitioners, people from all parties involved, perhaps it might be possible to create a new settlement for public services. As we go into a tough economic climate we can only sincerely hope so. I’ll do my bit as a Commissioner on the Trust. If you want to read my paper you can find it here.

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Posted by Ben Lucas at 4:00 pm
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