The Week

The GEek 21 June 2024

Charlotte Pickles
Director

Two weeks yesterday we head to polling stations to elect a new government, and if the recent polls are accurate, we could have a government with a historic majority.

Setting aside the potentially worrying implications for effective parliamentary scrutiny of the executive, one benefit of a thumping majority would be a government with a mandate to radically reform how the State functions. To grasp the nettle of social care funding and fiscal devolution, to deliver 1948-scale reform of the NHS to set it up for the next 75 years, to overhaul our outdated machinery of government and re-fashion the social contract. In other words, to reimagine the State.

Yet, if Labour’s manifesto and ongoing reluctance to rock the boat are anything to go by, this paradigm shift moment seems unlikely to come to fruition. Right now, when it comes to public service reform, it is a platform befitting a party that has scrapped through with a slim majority. That may change, and we hope it does, because tweaking is no longer an option.

The good news for the next government should they decide bolder is better, is that, as a new paper out this week by Sam Freedman argues, “our problem is not a lack of ideas: it’s how to make them happen within a poorly functioning and over-centralised state in which politicians are increasingly unwilling to make choices about complex and painful trade-offs.”

At Reform we can’t do a lot about political courage, but we do have lot’s of ideas on how to address both the “poor functioning” and “over-centralisation” of the State — in fact that’s the focus of two of our three major work streams.

Speaking of which, this week we published ‘A manifesto for delivery: 14 ideas for a better Whitehall’, and you can read a summary of the paper in this write-up by Civil Service World. Our Whitehall lead Joe Hill also wrote a short blog on the paper. Labour folk, get reading!

Policy spotlight...

In Sam’s paper (which is well worth your time) he call’s for greater devolution, and, specifically, “a clear set of criteria for: what should remain with national government; what should sit regionally with mayors; and what should be done at local authority level – with funding and powers aligned accordingly”.

In our paper ‘Devolve by default’, published at the beginning of the year, we set out a framework for delivering a more systemic approach to devolution in Whitehall. We made the case, as Sam does in this week’s publication, that devolution would be as good for Whitehall as it is for local areas, because it would allow the centre to focus on the things it has to do — and do them well. And we included in our framework a way of assessing local area maturity for taking on more powers.

To build on this we will soon be setting out the Reform model for what specific powers should sit at what level of government. Just in time for that bold new government action.