IPPR - Radically redesign Whitehall to unlock better public services, says IPPR

From: Think Tanks
Published: Mon Oct 09 2023

  • Ahead of the Labour conference, IPPR sets out a bold blueprint for 'mission-led' public services

  • Public are convinced that hospitals, schools and policing will continue to decline unless action is taken, new polling finds

  • Prevention, personalisation and productivity are key to delivering a ‘smarter state', says IPPR

The current decline of public services can only be fixed by an ambitious set of reforms, backed by sufficient funding, according to a new report from IPPR.

The report argues that the current crisis can neither be fixed by the ‘magic money tree' - just throwing more cash at services - or the ‘reform fairy' - meaning austerity 2.0 with reforms expected to transform services alone. Instead, it argues that we need both. “The age-old debate about whether a smaller or larger state is a distraction. Instead, we should be aiming for a smarter state”.

New polling for IPPR by Opinium finds that the public agrees with this approach: while 23 per cent believe reform alone is the solution and 21 per cent believe funding alone will solve it, most - 35 per cent - believe both are needed.

The polling also found high public anxiety over deteriorating public services and strong appetite for action to improve them:

  • Asked if they thought a series of public services were getting worse, 52 per cent said hospitals were, 55 per cent said GP services were, and 43 per cent said the same of the police.

  • Half or more said the government does not spend enough on a series of key services: hospitals (68 per cent), social care (52 per cent) and schools (49 per cent)

  • Large proportions said they were willing to pay more tax if the money is spent on services: on hospitals (56 per cent), schools (35 per cent) and GP services (46 per cent

The last serious attempt to reform public services, the report says, was using the so-called ‘New Public Management' approach developed under New Labour. However, based on the findings of a specially commissioned academic review by UCL, IPPR says its reliance on targets and competition to drive delivery is “running out of road”.

Instead, IPPR sets out a new blueprint for public services is based on driving the "three p's of public service reform”: prevention, personalisaion and productivity.

Preventative services can help people before they hit crisis point, resulting in better outcomes and also reducing costs, the report argues. Personalised services will empower citizens to take control of their own lives; and productive services means using the resources of state to deliver the best outcomes possible.

To reform public services, IPPR's blueprint involves:

  1. Enabling a future ‘mission-led government' by rewiring Whitehall and putting public service missions into law, with a legal obligation to deliver on key metrics of success, and new independent bodies created - similar to the Climate Change Commission (CCC) - to hold government to account for this.

  1. Ensuring ‘the money follows the missions' by embedding the new metrics into the Treasury. All spending should be assessed for priority against a ‘mission test' and the Treasury should develop a new category alongside capital investment and revenue spending - Prevention Investment Expenditure (PIE) - to ensure prevention is prioritised and protected.

  1. Create an ‘enabling centre' by scrapping top-down targets, putting less emphasis on regulation and investing instead in the capacity of the public sector to drive innovation. This should include creating new, or investing in existing, ‘improvement organisations' for all key public services, charged with working with local leaders to overhaul failing public services.

Harry Quilter-Pinner, director of research and engagement at IPPR, said:

“Keir Starmer has promised to be ‘bolder than Blair on public service reform', but he will have his work cut out for him if he makes it into Number 10. The public are dissatisfied with schools, hospitals and policing, and they don't even think we have hit bottom yet as they believe things are still going to get worse.

“Reform alone is not going to solve the issues - but neither is chucking more money at our existing broken public service model. Public services can only be fixed by a long-term commitment to bold, ambitious reform that enables preventative, personalised and productive services coupled with investment to make this happen.”

Harry Quilter-Pinner, lead author and Director of Research and Engagement at IPPR, is available for interview


  1. The IPPR paper, The smarter state: Between the ‘magic money tree' and the ‘reform fairy' by Harry Quilter-Pinner and Halima Khan, will be published at 0700 on Monday Oct 9. It will be available for download at: http://www.ippr.org/research/publications/the-smarter-state

  1. IPPR (the Institute for Public Policy Research) is an independent charity working towards a fairer, greener, and more prosperous society. We are researchers, communicators, and policy experts creating tangible progressive change, and turning bold ideas into common sense realities. Working across the UK, IPPR, IPPR North, and IPPR Scotland are deeply connected to the people of our nations and regions, and the issues our communities face. We have helped shape national conversations and progressive policy change for more than 30 years. From making the early case for the minimum wage and tackling regional inequality, to proposing a windfall tax on energy companies, IPPR's research and policy work has put forward practical solutions for the crises facing society. www.ippr.org

Company: Think Tanks

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