9 February, 2017
8:30 am - 1:30 pm

Rt Hon Ben Gummer MP, Minister for the Cabinet Office

Reform Annual Conference 2017

Reform held its 2017 Annual Conference on the 9 February 2017. The conference touched on the themes of integrating technology in the delivery of public services, stories of success within Whitehall, and public financing of the welfare state. We were joined by around 200 members of Reform’s network across the public, private and voluntary sectors. This conference was very kindly supported by Hewlett Packard Enterprise and the ICAEW. This year marks Reform’s 15th birthday. What better way to celebrate than by hosting our third annual conference, on theme of a new era of government: one that seeks to serve citizens, not the other way around.

Keynote speech

In his keynote speech, the Minister for the Cabinet Office, Rt Hon Ben Gummer MP, pointed out that this was an unusually responsible 15-year-old’s party, kindly hosted by the ICAEW. Gummer argued that ministers must recognise that the Brexit vote was a strong message to government that it needs to serve people by delivering public services that work for them. The Minister announced the publication of the Government’s long-awaited Transformation Strategy setting out how it would achieve this. To govern, he argued, is to serve.

Panel one: "Government at your service"

  • Rt Hon Ben Gummer MP, Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General
  • Jonathan Slater, Permanent Secretary, Department for Education
  • Dr Ali Parsa, Founder and CEO, Babylon Health
  • Professor the Baroness Wolf of Dulwich CBE, Sir Roy Griffiths Professor of Public Sector Management, King’s College London
  • Daniel Searle, Chief Digital Officer, Hewlett Packard Enterprise

This was the first panel’s theme. Ali Parsa outlined a radical new vision of healthcare, underpinned by artificially intelligent technology. Jonathan Slater delivered a “practical” vision of technology in education, including the use of algorithms to mark homework and Uber-like ‘gig’-economy platforms to provide supply teachers, without paying large agency fees. Daniel Searle pointed out that the UK is embracing technology at a quicker pace than countries like Australia. While Professor Alison Wolfe warned that human interaction was still necessary in a world of robots. Ben Gummer concluded the panel by noting the importance of data in education to empower parents to monitor how government was spending money in local schools.

Panel two: "Whitehall's stories of success"

  • Bernard Jenkin MP, Chair, Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee
  • Jane Cunliffe, Director of Public Spending, HM Treasury
  • Richard Bacon MP, Member, Public Accounts Committee

Whitehall success stories was the theme of the second panel. Bernard Jenkin argued that Civil Service reforms were best when they came from within organisations, pointing to the dedication of GCHQ. Jane Cunliffe explained that “efficiency is more important than ever” for public finances during uncertain times. She explained that government is looking to cross-departmental ways to achieving this. Richard Bacon argued that team-based approached to working could free talented civil servants to meet citizens’ needs best. https://youtu.be/D0CD2waTiZ8 Here are Richard Bacon MP's slides and video together.

And here are his slides.

Panel three: "How will we pay for the welfare state?"

  • Paul Johnson, Director, Institute for Fiscal Studies
  • Rt Hon Steve Webb, Former Minister of State for Pensions
  • Kirsty McHugh, Chief Executive, Employment Related Services Association
  • Ross Campbell, Director, Public Sector, The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales

Some innovative thinking was much sought after to answer the final panel’s exam question: how will we pay for the welfare state? Paul Johnson set the scene by noting that half of welfare spend was on sick and elderly people and that current spend was unsustainable in the long term. Steve Webb argued the best way to finance this would be to unlock the human capital of older workers. Kirsty McHugh pointed out the importance of getting people into work to increase tax receipts and their wellbeing. Ross Campbell argued reform of the way public services are delivered is the only sustainable solution to delivering current coverage sustainably. https://youtu.be/DbTw2N66oCc Serving today’s citizens, all panellists agreed, requires radical change to the way public services are delivered. Using technology to transform its business model is clearly the Government’s ambition. Done successfully, Reform just might celebrate its 30th birthday by toasting sustainable public services that work for all.