Comment Blog 24 October, 2017

The State of the State 2017 - 2018

Because so much political attention is being absorbed by Brexit, it is easy to forget just how much reform activity there is across the public sector at the moment. That is one of the main themes of The State of the State 2017-18, the Deloitte/Reform joint research report publishing today and in its sixth year.

This first of three blogs on the report focuses on reform through digital technology (which is one of Reform’s core workstreams for the next year). The State of the State presents new data that suggests that the Government’s opportunity for progress may be greater than it realises.

The report’s survey of citizens shows that more people trust government with their personal data (56 per cent of voters) than trust companies (only 31 per cent). For both governments and companies, the most important basis for that trust, according to the survey, is confidence that there are “strict rules and regulations” about the use of that data. For the NHS, despite ongoing concerns over public opinion, 77 per cent of people support the Service “using  people’s personal health data” in order to improve services and treatments for patients.

Speaking for Reform in 2017, John Manzoni, the Chief Executive of the Civil Service, said that, “public trust” was “absolutely critical to achieving our ambition for a data-driven government”. The State of the State suggests that much of that trust is in place.

The great hope for technology is that it will provide new routes to public service delivery that are more reliable and also cost effective. That has been a major theme of Reform reports in recent months and is further evidenced in today’s report, with both NHS and social care providers pointing to the future importance of artificial intelligence. Earlier this year, the Department of Health (£) recruited three AI companies to pilot the delivery of health advice by smart machines.

The report identifies two key barriers to the faster use of technology: freeing up management time and the recruitment of the right skills. On the former, for all of the Coalition’s target-busting efforts, Sir Stuart Rose’s review of NHS leadership showed that “bureaucracy” was a key restraint on management creativity. Ministers can never take their eyes off that particular ball.

Technology is also creating new challenges for public sector leaders, notably the creation of new online crimes. Recent Reform research echoed that finding. It proposed significant reforms to both police skills and organisation to help meet the challenge, including a reduction in management ranks.

Speaking to the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee last month, Philip Hammond spoke of the “tantalising prospect of driving real productivity advancement in government processes” through technologies such as AI. As The State of the State reports, the Chancellor approaches his forthcoming Budget with a persistent deficit and net debt still above 80 per cent of GDP.  His interest in better public sector productivity is unsurprising but still very welcome. He is right to be optimistic about the opportunities that new technology will provide him.

The State of the State is available at and