Can innovation transform the public sector?

Many parts of the private sector are being changed dramatically by digital technology. If you want to buy a house you can now visit a range of properties on line and see their floor plans and their inside and outside appearance from your home computer. If you want to buy any good or service you can google it and see a list of competing offers, usually with prices. You can order on line from your armchair. If you want to find a new job there are electronic jobs boards with choices of openings on offer. You can bank online, insure your car on line, undertake a study course on line. The opportunities are endless. The role and nature of the estate agent, the insurance broker, the bank clerk and the employment agency have altered substantially.

As a result of all this change the private sector is rapidly having to adjust its staff and property to accommodate the new way of doing things,. Will we need a many shops when people shop more on line? How many bank branches and insurance broker high street outlets do we need when more is done on the home computer or on the mobile on the move?  Does the Town Centre become more of a leisure and entertainment destination. with much higher proportions of restaurant and leisure facility space? I sense we have only just started to see wide ranging changes this technology has unleashed.

The public sector has been slower to adopt the potential of this technology. Education is still mainly conducted by going to a school or college and sitting down to hear and be guided by a teacher. Health care still mainly involves going to visit a Doctor or dropping into A and E for triage. It is true at the edges you can now renew your road fund licence on line, and can file your tax return electronically. The new Universal benefit system is a massive investment in new technology to deliver people’s state financial support.

Today I am inviting you to comment on what new applications and changes you would like to see in the way we deliver the main public services. If we can no order our food shop from our own living room and pay all our bills from our phone, what more could we do in this way when meeting government requirements or accessing public services?


  1. margaret brandreth-j
    July 12, 2014

    As far as the NHS is concerned , it has been 12 years since all my patient files were kept electronically and every consultation is recorded accurately electronically. I am not a Doctor, I am a Nurse and a trip to my surgeries, which I hold every day( As I believe parliamentarians do from time to time) are a must. There is no escaping from the fact that as individuals the patient must be seen.The description of an illness by a patient , particularly if the English is poor, can mislead , causing diagnostic difficulties.
    Since on line banking came into being there has been 3 occasions where an attempt to take money out of my accounts has thankfully failed , but caused a lot of stress.
    I haven’t seen a satisfactory photo of a product on line yet and when I did trust the photo have been let down .
    The experience of learning is enhanced by information technology, but does not in any way replace a collection of children or adults sharing the same pieces of information and reacting to it.
    With today’s technology there is only so much can be achieved, however things may improve.

    1. margaret brandreth-j
      July 12, 2014

      Before I commence today’s activities and having read my own comment , I would just like to use the platform to complain about predictive text which is set as default and has caused much stress . When a word is put into information and then quickly passing on to another sentence the automatic prediction can change it to it’s opposite meaning. Please take not all those who set up a default system.

      1. Douglas Carter
        July 12, 2014

        Maybe try typing out your piece on your own computer software first (for example, notepad) and then when you’re happy with the text, cut’n’paste direct into the boxes here?

        1. Edward2
          July 12, 2014

          Predictive text can be turned off I believe Margaret.
          Usually the option can be found in the menu under “settings” or under “text”.
          If this isn’t successful then google search using your device’s name plus predictive text.
          This should bring up some experts who will be able to show how this feature can be disabled.

        2. margaret brandreth-j
          July 12, 2014

          In the public sector this is not an option , the confidential information is locked.

        3. margaret brandreth-j
          July 12, 2014

          Perhaps you misunderstood. Every consultation I take in the NHS which is approx 20 /day is scripted on an NHS computer. This text contains highly confidential information.Some of the various software packages over the years which have been installed into different areas are set to default at predictive text. You can now see how your advice is not compatible with the day to day life in my surgeries.

      2. John E
        July 12, 2014

        I would think the predictive text setting is on your device, not specific to this site?

      3. forthurst
        July 12, 2014

        “I would just like to use the platform to complain about predictive text which is set as default and has caused much stress.”

        Magaret, I’m not clear whether you are blaming JR’s site for your woes or making a more general complaint; however, predictive text and spellchecking are both functions of your browser, whose defaults should be modifiable, ie switched off, by recourse to the browser’s ‘Preferences’ menu and finding the relevant sub-menu giving access to those functions. Without knowing anything about your system I can’t advise further, unfortunately.

        1. forthurst
          July 12, 2014

          apologies, Margaret, perhaps I should switch on my spellchecker!

          1. English Pensioner
            July 12, 2014

            The spelling checker on this site keeps reverting to English (United States)!

          2. margaret brandreth-j
            July 12, 2014

            I am complaining about some NHS software which uses predictive text. I made it clear that I was using this platform to complain about these systems .I cannot see how this is comparable to JR’S blog site.

        2. forthurst
          July 13, 2014

          “I am complaining about some NHS software which uses predictive text. I made it clear that I was using this platform to complain about these systems .”

          Reread your posts, as clear as mud. Had you made it clear you were complaining about the administration of NHS systems of which I know nothing I would not have attempted to address your complaint.

          1. Margaret Brandreth-J
            July 20, 2014

            I would ask you to look at the first line which talks about the NHS . Of course if you cannot read in context that is your problem.

    2. ian wragg
      July 12, 2014

      last week I saw my GP after 2 weeks for a referral for a hernia repair at our local BMI hospital. Today I receive a letter from the surgery asking which surgeon and which hospital will I be attending. The whole point of the referral was to give them this information. A simple phone call to me would suffice but no, a letter asking me to attend to confirm my intentions.
      If I ran my site the same we would be bankrupt.

  2. alan jutson
    July 12, 2014

    Whilst I would agree that we want efficient government with its reduced costs, we must at the same time be careful that we do not exclude millions of people who do not have, want, can afford, or use such technology.

    Just imagine if you were old and had never before used a smartphone or a computer at work (many still do not use computers at work) how do you learn.
    Not on line because you cannot use the technology, not from an instruction manual because they are not provided any more, not from the systems provider, because they very often do not provide courses.

    The local authority used to provide inexpensive evening tuition courses on a whole range of subjects, and whilst I would agree that many were simply for interest type hobbies (which should not be subsidised), some were of real use.
    But no more due to we are told cut backs, which now mean that very often a 10 week course of 10 lessons in anything is now £250.00 or more.

    One well known computer manufacturer has the right idea here, in their own stores they run free group workshops, or for £79 you can have one-one tuition, in store, for as many times as you like, for one year, for a one off payment of £79.00.
    Thus customer loyalty is supported.

    1. Hope
      July 12, 2014

      Parliament spends a fortune on expenses for politicians, the taxpayer subsidise their alcohol and food despite drunkeness and sub standard behaviour by them. The taxpayer has spent a fortune providing computers and lap tops for MPs. The whip system and inability to provide time for debates to take place shows there is no need to be there. Only 16 attended the EU debate covered by JR. Why do they all need to attend PMQs instead of video conferencing. For example, PMQS. Large turn out much rowdy childish behaviour a lot time wasted as Bercow makes his condensing remarks to get them to keep quiet. The majority could watch from their office and those who are allowed to question only need attend. It would have been a better use of time for the taxpayer if MPs attended the EU debate rather than PMQs which only persist to serve vanity and egos of politicians, it achieves nothing for the public who pays their wages and has to pick up the large bill. Better still cut the number of MPs to about 100.

  3. Lifelogic
    July 12, 2014

    The problem with the state sector is they will just use any new technology to put more of the burden on to the tax payer, mug and milk them more efficiently (as with self assessment, PAYE, Corporation tax filings for example). They make a hugely complex system and then fine you if you get anything wrong or slightly late. HMRC seem to have difficulty now even answering the phone or replying to letters.

    Bus lanes, hatch junction, no left turns, endless red light, speeding, congestion mugging cameras a further example. The new 20 mph limits now mean the push bikes (usually rather dangerously) overtake the lines of cars.

    There is of course huge scope for efficiencies all over the state sector but looking for efficiencies is not what drives civil servants quite the reverse. They are far more interest in looking for more justifications to have more tax payers money to waste, hand over fist.

    The rubbish collection system has deteriorated hugely over the past 25 years again fines seem to be driving it. Even fines for parents taking children on holidays in term time. Yet no fines for striking teachers to fail to turn up to teach them it seems.

    The education system, universities and schools have huge scope for efficiencies with lectures, on line tests and learning on line. One excellent teacher 20,000 students rather than one poor one for 15.

    The NHS and diagnosis system via GPs seems absurdly inefficient to me. We need proper diagnostic centres that can do the scans, x-rays, blood/urine tests, biopsies and analysis there and then. But then so much of the NHS is about delaying patients and rationing treatments – mainly due to the free at the point of use religion (or rather point of non delivery/rationing).

    Turkeys do not vote for Christmas and bureaucrats do not look for efficiencies that make themselves redundant. Doing that is the governments job but with high tax/big government Cameron/Libdumb types they do not even try.

    The state sector is 50% over paid/pensioned and about half of them do little of any use, many actually merely inconvenience people or mug them (motorists & businesses the usual target of choice). The scope for savings is huge but it will not happen without the political will. Cameron is a high tax borrow and tip down the drain conservative nothing much will improve under him.

    Perhaps someone in government could invest in the new technology of a pencil, paper and a calculator (£2 at a pound shop). Then in about 30 minutes they could easily calculate that £5000 subsidies for electric cars, subsidies for wind farms, PV cells, CAP, the green deal, the green OTT building regulation, and lots or similar things are hugely misguided.

    I see you even have to lease the electric car batteries at about £70 a month on some models and still you might only get a reliable range of perhaps 70 miles, less still if you need a heater, windscreen wipers or air con. Even more bonkers than Ed Davey’s offshore wind subsidies.

  4. alan jutson
    July 12, 2014

    Yes Town Centres are changing, that is why there is so much opposition to Wokingham Councils idea of borrowing £100 Million to modify the Town Centre, and then needing to try and capture further business to pay for it all, by building more retail space and a hotel on open spaces (recreational land) within the Town centre.

    Sadly with more and more people purchasing on line we will see more and more smaller shops closing, the supermarkets will get ever bigger and stronger, and the variety of shops within the Town centres will reduce.

    Agree that some attractive Town centres (I include Wokingham) will/are being used for a growing selection of restaurants, and bars, and pubs, but many shopping centres have no soul at all, and really are places to avoid in the evenings.

    1. Cliff. Wokingham
      July 12, 2014

      I agree….Most town centers, including Wokingham, have lost their souls.
      I have recently noticed that the large supermarkets, having killed off the smaller independent grocery stores and the smaller supermarkets, are now putting their own “Small Local” supermarkets in town centers.

      I suspect Wokingham Borough Council, along with other local authorities, see public open spaces, such as Elm Field and the Carnival Field, as liabilities, in so far as there is a cost in maintaining these spaces, but they see developed land as a revenue stream, with cash from business rates and rip off tax. (council tax) When one looks at the cost of leases and business rates in Wokingham’s town center, one can understand why only the large, pub and eatery chains can afford to be located there.

      The real irony is that, so much of what made Wokingham an attractive place to live and raise a family in, is now being destroyed by the local authority. My wife was born in Wokingham and has seen so many changes over the decades in the town and the feel of the town and she feels, as do I, that many are not for the better.

      Regarding your post about excluding millions is very true. My wife has never used a computer and now we are retired, she probably never will. I have tried to show her how it all works but, like so many of our generation, she is just not interested in computing.

      I suspect the reason why the state likes people to go online for everything is because there is always an electronic trail and in light of the recent “emergency data legislation,” one can understand why it is so attractive to the state.

  5. Mike Stallard
    July 12, 2014

    My wife has just had her hip done. She looks forward to chatting it all over with her doctor, she enjoys her trip to the physiotherapist, but the real reassurance comes from her online research in the fora and chat rooms. Both…and…

    It seems to me that the NHS is getting the basics badly wrong. More and more old people, not enough midwives, a shortage of doctors and nurses and tales of how hospitals are deeply in debt, filled the news in the past couple of days here in East Anglia.
    Seen from the point of view of a benign, motherly, nationalised industry, this makes perfect sense. Provision of the service is hard and the public is unappreciative.
    Seen from a business point of view, it represents a vast opportunity for making money. Tescos does not complain that there are too many people in the shop! ASDA does not refuse to serve people on the grounds that there are too many pregnant mums at the till!

    1. Lifelogic
      July 12, 2014

      Well at Tesco and Asda you pay at the point of use. With the NHS you have paid already so they want to deter you by delays, inconvenience and rationing.

  6. Lifelogic
    July 12, 2014

    I am sure Baroness Butler-Sloss has many admirable qualities, but who on earth thought that she, at 80 years old, was a sensible choice to head the child sex abuse inquiry?

    1. Lifelogic
      July 12, 2014

      On embracing technology I see that HMRC even seem unable to accept emails for most issues. I assume it is far too much trouble for them to reply and rather harder for them to say they have lost your letter!

      They are however very keen on the technology of expensive phone line numbers with huge waiting times and silly/dumb computers answering them. Usually referring you back to the website that you have already visited but without any positive result.

      1. David Price
        July 13, 2014

        Email is “best effort only”, there is never a guarantee of how long the delivery to the individual will take if at all. Autoresponders are no confirmation of receipt either.

        If you want confirmation of delivery I suggests you use the phone or letter and join the queue with the rest of us.

  7. Douglas Carter
    July 12, 2014

    At the risk of being accused of Luddism, these days I look more to how any innovative conveniences can be (and often are) abused.

    A look at the private sector (for example BT, or Sky) will frequently highlight instances where actual customer service is being displaced by a more pervasive contempt for the customer. It’s almost impossible to communicate with some companies in any respect other than under their own terms – many will actively refuse to communicate in writing, for example these days.

    I’d be only too happy to see services subject to innovations which genuinely suit their users, but not vital services which might vanish behind obstructions and opportunism. I once worked in Texas as a manager for a firm which was based in Holland, and I recall negotiating a temporary local accomadation for him where it was necessary to telephone the local authority, and waiting ten minutes on a premium-tariff number while the listener was obliged to listen to repeat adverts for heartburn tablets and cheap motor insurance. (This was not a ‘waiting’ line – the local authority contracted intentionally for an advertising line….)

    The private sector in too many instances have abused such conveniences to treat their contractually-obliged customers as captive audiences and cash-cows. I would first want to be assured that the authorities behind public services subject to enhanced availability in convenience terms, would be compelled to recognise their nature as a service, and not as a generous favour.

    In particular, if I want to talk to somebody at my local authority, then I’ll do so specifically with somebody local. Not with somebody in the Philippines.

    1. Douglas Carter
      July 12, 2014

      …’temporary local accomadation for him’…

      Sorry, my mistake, – accommodation for a Holland-based engineer who was to work temporarily on a contract in Austin.

    2. Lifelogic
      July 12, 2014

      Indeed you often cannot even email them without filling out some long silly irrelevant form demanding impertinent information from you – such as your date of birth, home phone number, order number, product code, date of supply, account no, invoice no, reference no and the likes. Giving you options for contact reason none of which usually apply.

      Unless you get a solicitor to write you often get little response and often even when you do.

  8. Bazman
    July 12, 2014

    Having a valet is of far more use than having to be bothered by telephonic contact. Quality shops such as Harrods for groceries finds one rarely disappointed as with personal visits from tradespeople such as tailors and Doctors. Other such needs are best catered for by other quality staff and advice from the gentlemans club. The entertainment factor can easily be replaced with a play, some light music, not ghastly popular though or a good book in the park.
    What we need is less technology which is causing no end of problems and for the government to stop this absurd and pointless waste of money allowing to much communication and rotten idea to spread through the populace. It will all end in tears as the lower classes actually think they are able to govern themselves.

    1. Denis Cooper
      July 12, 2014

      “It will all end in tears as the lower classes actually think they are able to govern themselves.”

      Fortunately, my Lord, we put a stop to that in 1972 when we put the government of this country beyond their reach.

      Your Lordships will recall that their predecessors in this House voted 451 – 58 in favour of the Bill to achieve that.

  9. Roger Farmer
    July 12, 2014

    For the past two elections, General 2010 and European 2014 I was denied my chance to vote. First because my home town registrar could not get the papers to me on time. They argued that they cannot send out papers until candidates are declared. This makes sense until you realise that the deadline between declaring and voting is so short that it cannot cope with a three day each way postal service between England and Spain. A form of E-Mail suitably secured would put an end to such nonsense.

    Second because the registrar did not send the papers to my Proxy as instructed but claims they were sent to Spain. Of course they never arrived anywhere. One can conjecture whether this was just incompetence or whether there was some other motivation operative in his office.

    Finally, would you believe, the registrars name is not published and he has no E-Mail address. I conclude that individuals in government service glory in anonymity and the last thing they want is contact with the general public who they are supposed to serve and who pay their salaries.

    I remember some years ago my brother trying to contact the local police officer in charge of his area to complain of continued street rowdiness. Said officer was protected by a wall of minions who failed to resolve the situation. He was in the habit of visiting a small town in the USA on business and as a test case phoned the local police chief who he did not know. He was put through within thirty seconds and had a very interesting and welcome discussion on comparative systems. I would suggest that this is very indicative of the totally different attitude of government officials who supposedly serve their people in different parts of the Anglosphere.

    It is largely a matter of attitude within government at all levels. Ours needs to be dragged into the twenty first century even though they will kick and scream against it. Imagine Sir Humphrey having to speak to the plebs dear boy, don’t be silly.

    1. Lifelogic
      July 12, 2014

      Indeed anyone in government who is remotely important or who knows what is going on can rarely be contacted. They just hide behind walls of staff who know, or can do virtually nothing. They are often only in one or two days a week (say Mon and Wed but next week when you ring it will be Thur and Friday), they have flexible working, job shares, sick leave, paternity leave, team building exercises, training days ….. anything to avoid the tax payers!

      1. Bazman
        July 13, 2014

        Ever worked in large private comapny? It’s the same especially when funded by taxpayers money.

  10. Antisthenes
    July 12, 2014

    The public sector will always be adverse to change and slow to embrace new ways of doing things as unlike the private sector there is not the profit motive or the need to optimise revenue; the tax payer is a captive market. Coupled with which new technologies more often than not lead to job losses which given the high unionisation of the public sector with their Luddite attitude and their priority being to employer protection and not customer satisfaction then to expect rapid change is a forlorn hope. The public sector will always be a millstone around the neck of the nation and a barrier to progress and will always be the least efficient, competent and most wasteful. The answer to which is take as much as possible away from the public sector and put in the hands of the private sector.

    1. Bazman
      July 12, 2014

      Define what the public sector is before coming out with this drivel.

      1. Roger Farmer
        July 12, 2014

        Anyone paid out of taxpayers contributions private or public , national or local. QED

        1. Bazman
          July 13, 2014

          Would that iclude roadbuilders and defence contrators whos employees also pay tax. QED? As if.

    2. libertarian
      July 12, 2014

      Actually I don’t agree Antisthenes.

      I’m a free market libertarian with many businesses working in the digital space. There are large parts of the public sector that have embraced new technology and have made it far easier for the public to interact. The DVLA, DWP are good examples. There are also public bodies who have adopted new technology and used it as a weapon to punish the public HMRC for instance.

      Its NOT the public sector per se that hasn’t adapted to change its the politicians and their rent seeking friends who are the problem. It charging absurdly high rent and business rates for “prime retail” space when its no longer prime and no longer needed. Its local authorities STILL implementing anti car and anti car parking policies as well as refusing to countenance change of use from retail to leisure, office, domestic so that our high streets can move into a new era of mixed use.

      Our local idiot Tory council recently shut 400 car parking spaces in our small City. When challenged their response was if people want to shop they’ll drive around until a space is free. No they won’t they’ll drive the 10 miles to the out of town shopping mall in the neighbouring borough where car parking is free.

      I do agree we have far too much public sector that wastes far too much of our tax money. We should pay for the delivery of excellent quality core public services and no more. We could spend billions more on key services if we closed superfluous public sector departments such as BIS, Culture Media and Sport, Welsh, Scottish and NI offices, Climate Office et al .

      Whilst I’m a free marketer I’m also pragmatic and realistic and I’m afraid that certain private corporations that are supposed to deliver public services are even worse than the public sector so privatisation on its own is no guarantee of effective public service. The answer in my opinion is to take as much as possible away from the public sector and give it to no one as its not needed.

    3. david
      July 12, 2014

      Virtually all the technological advances of the 20th century started their life in the public sector in the main due to their military applications, and if they didn’t start there it was the massive investment by the taxpayer in two world wars that made them a practical proposition.

      All the communications systems, including the internet, computers, Bletchley Park and the National Physical Laboratory spawned an entire industry. Radar totally developed in the public sector GPO and again the NPL. the aeroplane was a toy, and only the military made it a practical proposition. Jet engines guess where? In fact there wouldn’t be an electronics/aviation industry in any country world if it wasn’t for the public sector and the armed forces.

      1. libertarian
        July 13, 2014

        Utter drivel David.

        Your lack of knowledge on these things is astounding. You clearly don’t know what the internet is. Computers where first developed by the Lyons Tea company. Who invented transistors, mobile phones? TCP/IP, ethernet.

        Leaving aside military systems such as radar and planes. There is no commercial exploitation of any systems that may have been worked on by government research establishments.

        You may be right about aviation but you are 100% wrong about electronics. Most of the big break throughs where made at Bell Labs or Xerox Parc by private companies.

  11. Mark B
    July 12, 2014

    Before exploring how technology can change public sector for the better, we need to first make an admission. That being, what drives these changes, is good old fashioned naked Capitalism. Demand, supply, competition and profit.

    The very nature of Public Services is, that they are open to the public and, are usually the only service provider. I say ‘usually’ because, for example, there private ambulance firms attending accidents and emergencies. These firms are to the same standards as the the Ambulance Services and, their staff and equipment is to the same high levels that we have come to expect. It is still free at the point of service, which, for many in desperate need, is important.

    To that end, I argue, we will only see full adoption of technology, when we see real open and fair competition in the market place.

    As any technology that makes people either redundant, less valuable, and therefore less expensive, will be resisted by the Public Sector Unions, which, under the last Labour Government, grew massively in both size and power.

    Already we have seen the reach of these Unions recently and, I fear that another Labour Government would represent a final nail in the UK’s coffin. I believe much of Lord Tebbit’s legislation will be modified or repealed to suit the Unions better and, with a more Socialist / Centralist Government in the EU, I fear business will be further strangled via taxation and fines as to drive out any hope of reforms necessary to make the EU and by extension, the UK economy grow.

    Back in the late 80’s and early 90’s, the last Conservative Government brought in, Compulsive Competitive Tendering, for Local Councils. I am sure our kind host remembers it, but for those who do not, and for someone who witnessed its effects on the ‘mentality’ of council staff can only remember too well, it forced Local Councils to open the services that they provide to the rate payer, to private competition. It remains for me, someone who has witnessed its effects and, the positive feedback from clients / rate payers, one the GREATEST Conservative ideas !!! And I really mean that !

    Today, we have another idea, this time by the Coalition Government where, if a local Council raises its tax above 2% per annum, a referendum is called. Whilst I greatly appreciate the fact that Eric Pickles MP has done a good job here, I think we can go further and, use the power of existing technology.

    If for example, our Local councils could give us a list of fees on what services we are prepared to pay for, we could use modern technology like that which is used for the national lottery, to tell Local Government what services we want and, what we are prepared to pay.

    For example: Why should a pensioner, or indeed any person living alone, pay the same amount to have their rubbish collected once a week when say, next door, has 4 people living and working and generate more rubbish but pay the same as a whole. Should not those who need their rubbish collected more or less than others, pay for respectively for such a service ?

    Through the power of technology, we can better tailor each and every need more to that which we want. Saving both time and money.

    1. Bazman
      July 12, 2014

      Smart Chip rubbish bins? See how far that one goes in your conservative utopia.

  12. acorn
    July 12, 2014

    It is now 09:07. I have been holding for 19 minutes now at British Airways enquiries. Lots of technology but not enough people to operate it.

  13. Anthony
    July 12, 2014

    I never understand why the school curriculum is not on line. Surely all lessons should be the same and on line with additional comment and research available. This is something the BBC should have done rather than wasting all our money. The advantages are too many to be able to list them

    1. John E
      July 12, 2014

      My sister is a teacher and has come up with some clever ways of using technology. For example she has put QR codes on the classroom walls to take pupils to her online videos where she answers the most commonly asked questions – the things that come up again and again.

    2. Gary
      July 12, 2014

      It is online. Eg. The Khan Academy, started by a MIT doctoral grad for his nephew thousands of miles away.Now there are 1000’s of lessons, all free. They are beautifully simple, you replay them as until you understand. Also tutorials on a wide diversity of subjects not taught at school such as money and banking. Govt school is no longer required.

  14. The PrangWizard
    July 12, 2014

    And where will you hope to apply any of the ideas which are suggested here? I see no mention of England, it is not something that we should take for granted, as we, the people, have ourselves been for so long by the British and Unionist Establishment. Does your writ extend beyond England in Health and Education for example, and if so how; or are you presuming to suggest changes outside England, where your writ doesn’t run.

    When are you going to truly accept that the days of old are over, you cannot carry on as if nothing has happened. You must make it clear – just who are you speaking for? You are a member of the all UK parliament, so until you are elected to a true English parliament, you cannot presume to speak for the England and the English, you must declare it every time if you do. What is devolved and what isn’t, and to what extent, is not universally understood and is often deliberately hidden, so you owe us all clarity in either the headings of your narratives or each and every time in your texts that your comments apply just to England if they do and who you are speaking for or about. Is it England or the whole of the UK.

  15. boffin
    July 12, 2014

    Could it transform the public sector? – no, not for the better whilst Whitehall is populated with expensive, unaccountable self-serving morons who have no grasp of it.

    The aborted NHS ‘Spine’ project wasted £7 billion of our money (yes, that’s a ‘b’) on duff IT, for nothing … and that’s just one project.

    Restoration of individual ACCOUNTABILITY – which technology has been misapplied deliberately to erode – is key. (Well said Mr. Carter, supra).

  16. John E
    July 12, 2014

    The best companies use technology to free their people up to serve customers more effectively. The ones who do as the HMRC does putting us in endless “Press 2 for ….” telephone queues lose our custom. Of course we have no choice but to deal with HMRC.

    Some areas of the public sector have adapted – paying car tax online is a lot easier than going to the Post Office and now it is being completely automated doing away with the paper disc. The portal is an excellent way to access government services and deserves the award and plaudits it has received.

    The Health Service does seem backward in its technology, or maybe over- ambitious in its aims while poor at execution. The recent local debacle at the Royal Berks Hospital is an example.

    If rumours about the forthcoming Apple iWatch are true, we will soon all be wearing advanced health monitors that track our vital signs, exercise regimes, even daily exposure to daylight. I predict a surge of early adopters turning up at doctors surgeries – some the worried well, others with serious and previously undetected conditions. I expect to hear Ministers tell us in a year or so that no-one could have predicted this.

  17. Stephen Berry
    July 12, 2014

    When I hear talk of ‘modernising the state’, I think of Edward Richard George Heath and Anthony Charles Lynton Blair and shudder with fear.

    It’s a huge mistake to look at the innovations which are carried out by firms operating in a market environment and assume that the state sector can be similarly reformed to reflect consumer wishes.

    New computer systems by state bodies have a tendency to spin out of control because they are too big and built to reflect political concerns. The fiasco of the new computer system at the Vehicle Licensing Centre at Swansea back in the 1960s was one of the first, the new NHS records system is only one of the latest.

    First transfer present state sector service to the private sector and find out what people really want and are willing to pay for. Then create the computer systems as part of the market response to this consumer demand. That’s the right way to look at this problem.

  18. Lindsay McDougall
    July 12, 2014

    Let’s start with the basics. A few years ago HMRC would not communicate with people working overseas by e-mail. You had to phone and their AVERAGE response time was 20 minutes. Clearly not a customer/supplier of services relationship.

    1. lifelogic
      July 12, 2014

      They still do not do they. I rang them the other day and was 11th in the queue
      after 15 minutes I was still 11th so I gave up.

      Even if you do finally get through they often have staff who do not have a clue nor access to the relevant information.

  19. ian wragg
    July 12, 2014

    Here in a small market town in the East Midlands, town centre parking has been reduced to 30 minutes. This is enforced by a permanent warden and lots of the local shops are minded to think it is a deliberate attempt to close independent shops according to Agenda 21.
    This may sound fanciful but the local Labour MP told us she would look into it and it would be changed to 1 hour parking. The council have put all kinds od obstacles in her way as she has tried to get the regulations changed. Who controls these people.

    1. lifelogic
      July 12, 2014

      Well they have all those huge local authority pension and wages to fund plus the parking warden’s – motorist mugging seems a good way to them. Even if they do put all the local shops out of business.

  20. Martin
    July 12, 2014

    Health must be the next big area. At present visits to a GP surgery are not that different from 50 years ago. Perhaps health monitors on our phones being relayed by Mobile Operators (or even GCHQ) to our local GPs etc is the next step forward.

  21. acorn
    July 12, 2014

    How about electronic voting in the public sector House of Commons. That would save at least twenty minutes every time there is a futile pointless vote, that will change nothing the executive doesn’t want changed. Come to think of it, why do we need 650 MPs allocated across 63 million people, when the US only needs 435 to cover 312 million.

  22. Brian Taylor
    July 12, 2014

    Having had PSA tests and then I Biopsy which detected No cancer cells it was decided to leave for three months. I then received a phone call saying I needed another hospital appointment I asked did I need a PSA blood test before No they said so I asked what had we to discuss if no blood test!
    So A blood test was arranged at my local doctors and the reading had dropped!
    I kept the appointment at the hospital 20 miles away, after waiting half an hour I met the consultant or his junior was told as PSA reading had dropped to have another test in 6 months.
    The trip to hospital was a waste of everyone’s time and it cost money all could have been conveyed by Email with an offer that if concerned please phone!!!!

  23. Bert Young
    July 12, 2014

    The place of technology in a well run organisation is both necessary and understandable . In the mid 60’s I introduced a computer ( a Texas ) to hold the records of many executives instead of having to access them via a coding device . This approach did not reduce the number of staff involved but it did reduce the time and improve the accuracy of the administrative search . Obviously the following years saw many improvements and sophistication to this process and the Civil Service modelled its personnel record keeping from it . One of the attributes of this system was the means by which careers were monitored and talents were spotted ; it enabled some individuals to “head to the top” more quickly and for their talents to be exploited ; substantial savings resulted in both costs and headcount . Today many individuals work in isolation and suffer from the lack of personal interaction ; I believe that organisations must counter this trend and recognise that individual achievement will be enhanced by social contact and schools would be ill-advised to allow technology to replace teachers – after all , communities are the result of face to face relationships within the confines of a democratic law .

  24. John E
    July 12, 2014

    My last point for the day..
    A critical lesson I have learnt is to first simplify, then automate.

    So to take the new benefits IT system as an example. The critical fault was in trying to get the programmers to automate a hopelessly complex and contradictory system – and one that was still changing mid project. When it’s too complicated for anyone to understand, no amount of IT will cure the problem. It needs the political will and insight to simplify first. Then the IT will be much cheaper and have a much better chance of working.
    Alternatively that simplification will yield most of the benefits without the IT investment anyway.

  25. oldtimer
    July 12, 2014

    The introduction of competition for the supply of public services will be the fastest and most effective way to get change. Monopoly often is the enemy of change though the vehicle licence renewal system is a notable exception.

    Regulators can and do make matters worse. For reasons unknown to me, energy suppliers are no longer permitted to offer discounts for prompt payment. This price mechanism has, apparently, been regulated out of existence. Why? It is barmy.

  26. JoeSoap
    July 12, 2014

    1 a secure method of online voting could practically remove the need for postal votes for those out of the country
    2 the NHS could deliver a complete programme of preventative and detective medicine e.g. your historic health records combine with real time information to determine whether you need to modify behaviour, what the likely outcome of not doing so would be, determining whether you need to visit a practitioner etc. It strikes me that BMW looks after its cars for us better than the NHS looks after our health.

  27. Denis Cooper
    July 12, 2014

    Off-topic, JR, that pesky ECJ has just struck another blow against Cameron’s plans:

    “The European Court of Justice has dealt a blow to David Cameron’s 2010 election manifesto pledge to make immigrants from outside the European Union pass an English language test before they are allowed to come to the UK to marry. In a judgement handed down on Thursday, the EU’s top court overturned a German law requiring foreign spouses from certain non-EU countries to take a language test before receiving a visa.”

    Just remind me who it was who decided in 1972 that henceforth a transnational court in Luxembourg should be able to over-rule our national courts, taking its place alongside another transnational court in Strasbourg which had already been given that power.

  28. forthurst
    July 12, 2014

    Computers may be programmed to perform routine tasks, defined as a those whose correct functionalities are pre-definable by rules. There appears to be a belief that an organisation like the NHS can be ‘sorted’ by allocating an enormous budget for the creation of a computer system without a clear idea of what it would do or how it could be used, either to save money or improve efficiency, the very existence of the computer system being taken as a token that the service had been ‘modernised’; unfortunately, this approach can achieve an enormous expenditure in resources without necessarily achieving any manifest benefit compensurate with the expenditure.

    The people who should not be defining what a NHS computer system should do are ministers and Whitehall civil servants. Their job is to create a health service which is properly funded, one in which the GP contract does not mean in practice that those taken ill out of normal surgery hours invariably present themselves at their local A & E dept either before or after having spent considerable time talking to unhelpful people on the telephone, which is not open to the whole of Europe still less the whole world and in which stupid people are not taking decisions which are properly the province of intelligent highly skilled professionals; it is the role of these latter professionals to determine what assistance they might welcome from a computer system since they are the ones who have to provide the service.

    The solution to the work and benefit system is also not a massive computer system of which some reports in the computer press are not wholly optimistic; the work and benefits system is responsible for the existence of people whose non-work culture is a lifestyle choice as well as attracting very large numbers of foreigners whose skill set is exceedingly modest. It is customary to blame the EU for this influx; however, the EU is not responsible for the attraction of our tax and benefit system to foreigners. The solution to the tax and benefit system is to migrate it in stages to one in which benefits exist as a safety net, only, so that the routine payment of benefits to those fit, of working age, ceases, transfering savings into reducing direct tax for the lower paid.

  29. behindthefrogs
    July 12, 2014

    Not only do the elderly suffer from not being computer literate they are in danger of being cut off from human contact by carrying out so many functions on line. Ordering food etc online is too expensive for many of them. Online supermarkets deliver free orders over fifty pounds but this is not much use if your normal weekly shop is half that amount.

    I used to visit my local post office nearly every week and knew the lady behind the counter fairly well. Now I have no local post office andI am forced to carry out most transactions online.

    If we are notbury ourselves in small circle of friends and family we must reverse this trend of doing everything online.

  30. Atlas
    July 12, 2014

    Computer based systems are great when they work – however they are not very good and handling many circumstances that are out of the ordinary. I prefer dealing with a person – not a machine.

  31. Terry
    July 12, 2014

    Let’s face it. The Public Sector is never going to catch up with modern technology and modern methods. The controlling Mandarins and Trade Unions are too staid in their ways to make any rapid change. Besides, new technolgy means increased efficiency and fewer personnel required to carry out the same work. And that would never do for a Trade Union nor a Mandarin perpetually seeking to enlarge his/her empire. The answer is to cap the amount of Government spending within their own departments and force through a new age of improvements in efficiency within those departments. Even if it results in job losses. The Private Sector has to tolerate this each and every year so why should the Public Sector be exempt?

    Furthermore, without the Private Sector, the Public Sector would not receive any funding so why is it that they seem to always bite the hand that feeds them? Is it because they can and the Politicans have always turned a blind eye to it? This country can no longer afford the burden of an grotesquely enlarged Public Sector so it is very much the right time for a cull.

  32. ian
    July 12, 2014

    CATCH 22

  33. BobE
    July 12, 2014

    Online election voting.
    If my bank can hold my details securly then it must be possible to allow election voting by internet. It might even increase turnout.

  34. paul rivers
    July 12, 2014

    On NHS wards patient records still seem to be paper based and patient monitoring has a lot of human intervention-taking temperature etc. The systems are available right now to massively improve productivity- for example there are wireless electronic monitoring devices available that are stuck on a patien like a plaster and monitor vital signals every 2 minutes , record the results and raise the alarm. This approach improves productivity , allows early intervention and provides “big data” to predict when a patient might deteriorate . The NHS is providing shared funding to encourage Trusts to adopt but progress is not fast. This is just one example of how technology can both reduce costs and improve outcomes. Again it comes down to the organisation capability to innovate and manage to private sector standards which is the key.

  35. Gary
    July 12, 2014

    We are on the cusp of a revolution. Digital currency and related technologies are going to bypass all centralization. This turns the world as we know it upside down. It may even be our emancipation.

  36. Iain Gill
    July 12, 2014

    There is very little real incentive for proper innovation unless the end consumers have buying power and can take their business elsewhere to force change. It is that dynamic for change which is needed. The current mechanisms for change in the public sector of a complaints process, top down dictats, and fashions within the workforce, are a very poor substitute for the real immediate and constant innovation and optimisation brought about by end customers being able to move provider with little or no fuss.
    As much as possible monopoly provision, where the individual end consumers have no choice, should be rolled away.
    Re “comment on what new applications…” pre supposes already a solution.
    Technology is not the issue, other than the fact the public sector, and the way they use their vendors, routinely messes up technology projects (and had not been improved by Dave and the mates from Eton he has put in place in lead positions in government technology, in fact he has made it worse), and it’s the monolithic way the state pre supposes that it should and could do so much.
    Real radical action would be to give individuals control over their own health spend, their children’s education spend, let them choose who did their tax or benefits admin from several competing providers rather than a state monopoly, and so on.
    More nonsense of the type spouted by Liam Maxwell and friends would be a disaster.

  37. English Pensioner
    July 12, 2014

    Anything involving government and computers seems to end in disaster or costs many times the projected budget.
    Before any new computer based projects are started, it might be a good idea to find out what went wrong with all those that failed. Only today I’ve read that the Borders Agency keeps a record of all foreign cars entering the country, but that the DVLA computer can’t manage to sort out those here for more than six months in order to charge the necessary tax. If those running the country’s computer projects can’t sort out a relatively simple matter like that, what chance do they have with anything major?

  38. Andyvan
    July 12, 2014

    Better than meeting government requirements online would be not to have to meet their requirements at all. Maybe government should have to meet our requirements for a change. After they are supposed to serve us, not the other way round. Maybe the inland revenue should have to bill us separately for each alleged service the state provides. Then we could decide if we thought they provide value for money, if not we could go to a private service provider.
    Of course government would never allow it’s tax slaves that amount of freedom because it would be the end of their gravy train.

  39. david
    July 12, 2014

    The new Universal benefit system is a massive investment in new technology to deliver people’s state financial support.

    So where are we on that, do you think it will be signed off before the GE, I mean GE 2020?

  40. Rods
    July 12, 2014

    Sadly all UK Government’s have an abysmal record when it comes to implementing IT systems, where tendering means they will normally go for the lowest price, not a more expensive system that might actually work! So, before they even think about wasting more of our money by introducing more technology, they actually need to employ people that have the skills to vet IT contracts on the likely hood of them working and to pick the best value for money.

    A popular target for councils looking for front line savings has been libraries. with the majority of books available online then I would have thought this would be an ideal system for the provision by the Government for an online national library where a registered user has access to a limited number of books for a limited time. This would also be of great assistance to our children’s education where they can borrow an authoritative book to help with their homework rather than relying purely on online sources of information of varying accuracy.

    Eric Pickles has been fighting a losing battle to keep weekly bin collections where most councils now collect fortnightly and one has just announced collections every three weeks. I would have though this would be an ideal candidate for councils to act as an online enabler where this is billed as identifiable item on your council tax bill and you can login and select the standard of service and price you require. Doing nothing will result in their default service, but if you decide to pay a bit more for more frequent collections, the collection of garden rubbish then you can do so. There is no reason why there should be a single monopoly supplier, so you should also be able to choose from several competing suppliers.

    I also don’t see why this should not also be applied to many other Government services with multiple suppliers of passports, visas etc. being examples, with waiting times given online, so those contractors that can’t supply things in a timely way or lose out financially.

    People cost Governments the most firstly as pensioners and secondly as children. When it comes to pensions, health provision, meals on wheels, home help etc., we are hoping that where we pay our taxes today that we will be covered in our old age with the services we require. The welfare system is going to get increasingly difficult to afford due to demographics. At the moment it is one of the rationales for mass migration to have more people of working age to pay for today, but with birth rates dropping globally, how is the next generations old age welfare spending going to be covered? Surely prudent Governments should be looking at very gradually, over a working life of about 40 years or even more to going over from a part funded to a fully funded system, so these personal welfare accounts look after us in our old age like they do in Hong Kong and Singapore. Not only would this mean that old age was pre-funded, but because we would buy in the services there would be real competition of all of the services that many of us are going to require. Any sums left in the fund when we die could then be passed on to our children.

    Where the Government will send about 43% of GDP in this tax year with £100bn+ borrowed, I would have thought that how to provide more, better with less in the public sector by using effective technological solutions would be a much high priority than it seems.

    A question I have posed to several politicians but have yet to receive a satisfactory answer is that to stop businesses becoming monopolies they can be vetted by an official Government agency to stop them merging or made to divest of some of their business activities so there is adequate competition. BAA is a recent example. So having competition between business is considered a good thing by Governments, but Governments insist on being monopolies or near monopolies with most of the services they provide. Why is competition considered to be a good thing in the private sector but a monopoly or near monopoly a good thing when a service is provided by Government, even when there could be consumer choice from several suppliers?

  41. sjb
    July 12, 2014

    JR wrote: The new Universal [Credit] benefit system is a massive investment in new technology to deliver people’s state financial support.

    Massive investment is right: £425 million with £34 million of IT written off already. [1]

    One million ‘clients’ were meant to be on the benefit by now; instead it is under seven thousand and they are the least complicated category of claimant, viz. single and childless.[2]


  42. Kenneth R Moore
    July 12, 2014

    Clearly the Conservative party needs to break up and re-form as a properly conservative force – not the pro EU, anti English party that it is now.
    Any attempt at real change to give more power and choice to the people will be resisted at all costs by this relic.

  43. Stevie
    July 12, 2014

    John, ‘other ways of delivering’ in healthcare is just a way for shysters to find a new way to screw the government. Don’t fall for it. It’s a microcosm of climate change.

    On a broader note, in healthcare, it is not as simple as private vs public. All public is madness, all private is madness.

    An 85 yr old lady who is independent and deserving of all care, with 10 background illnesses, will not get insurance. If that person gets acutely unwell without comprehensive insurance, they will not be admitted to ITU if a loss of £40,000 will be sustained by the hospital that is asked to admit her for ventilation and temporary kidney support for two weeks. That person will die by the choice of the healthcare provider in an entirely private model.

    Private companies will not take on a simple operation if they require a complex support package to get that patient through the aftermath. They cherry pick already to a degree that is not trivial – it already threatens the viability of some NHS hospitals.

    Equally, most NHS employees see patients as an inconvenience. Some are downright evil, as we saw in Stafford. You want a purple tailored suit, someone will make it for you in Hong Kong and ship it to you tomorrow. You want a potentially life saving investigation, the NHS will bring it to you when it is good and ready.

    There is a secret and universal policy of attrition within the NHS, of which Stafford was the tip of the iceberg. If A&E gets busy, patients who shouldn’t be sent home get sent home. This isn’t an airline turning people away from a full plane, this is sick people being told they are safe to go home when they clearly aren’t.

    This is happening in every unit in every hospital in the NHS and it is a scandal akin to MP expenses that is waiting to explode. There is a routine policy, applied by virtually all doctors in the NHS, of ‘demand management’ – i.e. care not by need, but by supply. If the hospital is busy, it is ‘the right thing to do’ to send patients away who are not safe and not ready to go home.

    Having worked in the NHS for 20 years, worked in healthcare in seven other countries and worked in the private sector in this country and others, I believe the NHS is an increasingly evil organisation, (etc ed)
    An entirely privatised service would be the opposite end of the spectrum and equally bad, but mark my words, the NHS is bad – very bad (and I’ve been at the sharp end of the UK’s ‘best’ hospitals).

    A solution lies in between, as it does in every other country in the world and gimmicks like Skype are not the answer.

    1. Stevie
      July 12, 2014

      Having seen it in situ, apologies for the length of the previous post. Feel free to read, digest and delete if it clogs up the thread or is too off-topic.

  44. Lindsay McDougall
    July 13, 2014

    The public sector doesn’t think that it needs to innovate because it can always raid the taxpayer for more. The thing to do is to minimise the size of the public sector. We should tell the public sector unions that the price of wage rises is fewer jobs.

    When are we going to end the effective NHS monopoly by allowing private health insurance premiums to be partly tax deductible? When is Network Rail going to be privatised, or its debt going to be added to state debt?

    Reply Yes, the debt has been added to state debt as it is state guaranteed

  45. Bazman
    July 13, 2014

    The fact that most major innovations and services are started and funded by the state is somehow lost in your much of this deluded dogma. Universities being a good example of research and education utilised by private companies at little or no cost to themselves.
    Its amazing that many of the people on this site are so ignorant despite obviously being connected to the vast knowledge base that is the internet. How do you make a living as obviously you all also do no physical work. Pig ignorant know nothing conservatism is the real problem often found in the over 40’s and young fogeys As I am well over you can’t play the to old, to young cards here and the internet has undermined your grip obtained by posh schools, privileged backgrounds and place of birth. Any nonsense from this can easily be researched and disproved and laughed at. Yes most importantly laughed at, just like North Korea already winning the world cup and its victory over Japan by a 7 nil.

    1. Edward2
      July 14, 2014

      Apart from shipping, airlines,cars, lorries, motorbikes, clothing, home building, agriculture, the internet,supermarkets,engineering,construction, etc and nearly every major world changing innovation and invention in the last 500 years Baz, the private sector has hardly done anything.
      Plainly in your deluded world, without the State, we would all still be back in the stone age.
      Your point about Universities is also wrong as they get huge amounts of research funding by major corporations to do the work you say they do.

      1. Bazman
        July 14, 2014

        Need to check your facts edward2 internet and computers originate from the private sector? Get real and much of the education these companies benefit from is state funded. Go away and find out. You presumably have access to the internet and you will see by looking that your facts are wrong and you do not own them.

        1. Edward2
          July 15, 2014

          Yes I know the internet was originated in universities and some computer development, but my last point applies.
          Universities are funded by the private sector to do much of the research they do.

          1. Bazman
            July 15, 2014

            The vast majority of United Kingdom universities are government financed by mainly LEA grants. Only two are private. Research funding is mainly government, research councils the EU,charity funded with some industry sponsorship of about 7% in 2010/11. You are wrong.
            If you where to use the internet you would prove your deluded views wrong to yourself. Hence your reluctance to look.

          2. Edward2
            July 16, 2014

            Im talking about companies funding universities to do research projects not general funding.
            Your links are red herrings

            Having spent many years involved in this area I have to tell you have no idea how this works.

  46. alastair harris
    July 14, 2014

    Innovation in the private sector happens naturally because of competition. There is no similar obvious mechanism in the public sector to replace this. What we need is innovatory ways of rolling back the public sector. For example, the best way to sort out the NHS would be to privatise it. That is the kind of innovation we need to see!

    1. Bazman
      July 14, 2014

      Why privatise it and have profits put before patients as this is what would happen as in the utilities and transport The public would not accept this and why should they. For dogma as in some cases it may be very expensive.or takeaways but not health and we do not need to see the easy work creamed off for the benefit of a few. Maybe you praise the great banking innovations that they carried out in the last decade of running a parallel system and in some cases just downright criminality and fraud of which they have been taken to court and found guilty of.

  47. MikeP
    July 15, 2014

    I suppose one obvious candidate for an online solution John is a General election. If it could be devised in such a way as to be foolproof from fraud, a bit like the security checks for renewing a car road licence, I think it would be a step into the 21st Century to know how 80% of votes have been cast within 10 minutes of polling stations closing, the rest having to be counted traditionally as proxy votes and voting slips. Haven’t the French had something like this for donkey’s years ?

  48. watches
    October 2, 2014


    Can innovation transform the public sector?

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