Reinventing public services for citizens' use (II)
This article was first published in Reform’s 2017 Annual Conference brochure. To read more articles, click here.
A truly global, entrepreneurial Britain will have an innovative public sector at its core. We don’t just need to support private-sector innovation – we need the public sector to be an active partner. If we do both, we will be able to not only make Britain a testbed for technologies and a magnet for attracting inward investment, but we can create a thriving market of innovative technologies we can export to the world. Innovation post-Brexit can reform our society, and in so doing, help Britain go global.
Public sector innovation is crucial to tackling some of the biggest issues we face. Take one of our biggest public sector challenges: health and care. How do we restructure the NHS into a patient-centred healthcare system? How do we allow funding to follow the patient? 21st Century, digital healthcare holds the answer – developed here and then exported across the globe.
Brexit gives us a real opportunity to lay the foundation for a new Victorian age, if you like, of applied science for global impact. One of the challenges we faced in recent years in the European Union was lobbyists in Brussels successfully imposing regulations which are fundamentally anti-science and technology, particularly in areas like Agri-Tech, where Britain excels. Now we are leaving, we can return to our pioneering roots.
Coming to parliament after a 15-year career in technology venture capital, and in my roles as the first Minister for Life Sciences and now as Chair of the Prime Minister’s Policy Board, I can see huge opportunities to modernise and transform our public sector through innovation to deliver the vision above. It’s what modern business expects of a modern government; focusing on the technologies and sectors of the British innovation and knowledge economy which can best compete in the new markets of the developing world.
We have world-class universities, a science and research base, and a globally competitive lead in key sectors like biopharmaceuticals, aerospace, and the digital economy, but we won’t unlock their full value without continuing to build a long-term strategy for skills, research, infrastructure, procurement and global sales. This isn’t about “picking winners”. It’s about picking the races on which to focus scarce resources, and the Government doing what only it can do, but doing it better.
Fundamentally, it is about encouraging technology and innovation to help reform the way government works to dramatically improve public sector productivity. For example, in health, the challenge of digitalising the NHS is also a massive (£4.2 billion) investment in a new sector of digital health – apps, tools, and technologies.
As we begin to chart a new era in our national life outside the European Union, we must never forget that UK plc has vast assets on its balance sheet. We have a once-in-a-generation chance to restructure business to release the talents of our people, draw in investment, embrace new models, and become more entrepreneurial: making Britain a global crucible of innovation to export again to the world.
By becoming a testbed of the new technologies which are transforming the 21st century, and actively encouraging them to help reform our public services, we can accelerate public-sector efficiency, private-sector growth, and exports to the fastest emerging economies, and unlock a whole new cycle of global growth and prosperity.
We need the next Richard Branson to be as at home in the corridors of Whitehall as the conference rooms of Canary Wharf. That goal must now be at the centre of the domestic reforms required to underpin the Prime Minister’s inspiring vision of a ‘global’ Britain.