The Week

The Week, 20 January 2017

On Tuesday, the Office for Budget Responsibility declared public finances “unsustainable”, pointing to the option of drastically increasing tax to meet a near trebling of debt as a proportion of GDP in 50 years’ time. Reform research published on Wednesday highlighted systemic flaws in how government designs, evaluates and pays for public services. Radical reform is now the only option for delivering high-quality outcomes today, without bankrupting the country tomorrow.

Alexander Hitchcock, Senior Researcher

Reformer of the week

John Manzoni, Chief Executive of the Civil Service, for arguing that data should be the “life blood of operational decision making” in government.

Reactionaries of the week

OECD economies, for spending 20 per cent of healthcare budgets on activities that make no or little contribution to improved outcomes.

Good week for…

Competitive taxation

On Sunday, it was reported that Philip Hammond MP, the Chancellor, is considering cutting taxes to ensure the UK is “competitively engaged” following Brexit.


On Wednesday, it was announced that unemployment remained at an 11-year low of 4.8 per cent.

Spreading best practice in teaching

On Wednesday, the Chartered College of Teaching opened, with the aim of providing “evidence-based professional learning opportunities for communities of teachers.”

Bad week for…

Public finances

On Tuesday, the Office for Budget Responsibility judged the UK government’s finances to be “unsustainable”, with debt forecast to rise to 234 per cent of GDP by 2066-67.


On Wednesday, the National Audit Office criticised HMRC’s approach to outsourcing services to detect tax-credit fraud, which resulted in the contract being terminated early.

Inaccurate crime statistics

On Thursday, new crime statistics were released, including online crime rates, for the first time.

Quotes of The Week

“Data is the foundation of government, a part of our essential national infrastructure, and it cannot be left to chance. The data revolution has shaken entire industries such as retail, transport and financial services, and this disruption is coming for government too.”

John Manzoni, writing on Monday

“We would be free to strike trade deals across the world. And we would have the freedom to set the competitive tax rates and embrace the policies that would attract the world’s best companies and biggest investors to Britain. And – if we were excluded from accessing the Single Market – we would be free to change the basis of Britain’s economic model.”

Theresa May MP, speaking on Tuesday

“To get anywhere close to the £84bn implied by the OBR’s forecasts, big ticket items such as the State Pension would have to be cut. Faced with these nightmarish choices, the political temptation towards inaction will be intense. But doing nothing is the worst option of all. Every step that is taken today will lessen the burden on future generations. And there is a lot that the current crop of policymakers could do.”

William Mosseri-Marlio, writing in City AM on Wednesday

“Governments have traditionally been good at identifying – if not always addressing – the problems and challenges faced by the least disadvantaged in our societies. However, the mission I have laid out for the government I lead – to make Britain a country that works for everyone – goes further. It is to build something that I have called the Shared Society – one that doesn’t just value our individual rights but focuses rather more on the responsibilities we have to one another. That respects the bonds that people share – the bonds of family, community, citizenship and strong institutions.”

Theresa May MP, speaking in Davos on Thursday

Reform’s Week

On Wednesday, Reform published Faulty by design. The state of public-service commissioning. The report argues that the Government’s approach to commissioning – i.e. setting objectives for public services, designing their operation, evaluating performance and funding accordingly – is not delivering value for money for service users and taxpayers.

A number of blogs were written in support of the report:

On Wednesday, Eleonora Harwich, Researcher at Reform argued that, without focusing on the outcomes of services and integrating care, public services will not achieve value for money.

Also on Wednesday, Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, argued that devolution can create more responsive, efficient local services, but cautioned that accountability must not be lost.

On Thursday, Elaine Fischer, Research Assistant at Reform, argued that we need to up-skill local commissioners so they can play a greater part in devolved commissioning of public services.

The report also received media coverage:

On Thursday, Alexander Hitchcock argued in Civil Service World that the localism agenda is failing to get off the ground and public-services commissioning remains highly centralised.


On Sunday, a Telegraph article quoted Andrew Haldenby, Director at Reform, on how the NHS can learn from German success in moving patients out of hospital for rehabilitation.

Also on Sunday, Alexander Hitchcock argued on BBC Radio 5 Live that the NHS needs to think long-term to deliver a sustainable healthcare system.

On Wednesday, William Mosseri-Marlio, Research Manager at Reform, argued in City A.M. that the latest fiscal projections from the OBR mean the government needs to act now to offset some of the debt burden that future generations will face.

Also on Wednesday, Alexander Hitchcock wrote an article for Prospect magazine, arguing that the NHS needs reform, not more money, to meet users’ needs sustainably.

Reformer blog

On Tuesday, Andrew Haldenby argued that Theresa May “just about lost” the NHS “crisis” last week, since she took several days to develop the arguments that reform will prevent crises in the future.

On Thursday, Eleonora Harwich, Louis Coiffait, Head of Education at Reform, and Elaine Fischer argued that accountability measures from the Department for Education such as Longitudinal Education Outcomes and Progress 8 are excellent examples of data usage which other departments could learn from.

Upcoming events

On Monday 9 FebruaryReform is holding its Annual Conference with speeches delivered by Ben Gummer MP, Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General; Michael Gove MP, Former Secretary of State for Education; Bernard Jenkin MP, Chair, Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee; and Jonathan Slater, Permanent Secretary, Department for Education.

On Tuesday 21 FebruaryReform is holding a high level conference on the theme ‘Big Data in government: challenges and opportunities’ with the keynote speech delivered by John Manzoni.

On Thursday 9 MarchReform is holding a health conference on NHS reform at pace and scale, with the keynote speech delivered by Jeremy Hunt MP, Secretary of State for Health.