Public Services > Central Government

Building the Smarter State

Published 07 September 2017

Owen Spottiswoode, Head of Public Services at techUK, asks what Government and Industry can do to build the innovative public services of tomorrow?


“Prediction,” as the Nobel prize-winning quantum physicist Nils Bohr famously observed “is very difficult, particularly if it’s about the future.”

Thirteen years ago, even the most far-sighted of futurologists may have struggled to predict the explosion of technologies such as blockchain or AI that is reshaping today’s society. Back in 2004, as Government was hailing the launch of its “world-beating” Directgov website, a little known start-up called Facebook was attracting its very first users. Clearly a lot has changed since then.

So as leaders from across the public and private sectors prepare to join us to discuss how technology will transform public services over the next decade and more at techUK’s Public Services 2030 conference on September 14th, it’s worth remembering why looking to the future is so important.

Firstly, of course, we should be conscious of the fact that the public sector often operates differently to the private sector, for very good reason. As the then Minister for the Cabinet Office Ben Gummer said when he announced the Government’s Transformation Strategy earlier this year, “there is no company on earth – even the largest of multinationals – which comes close to having to co-ordinate the array of essential services and functions for millions of people that a modern government provides.” We shouldn’t expect Government to act like a nimble start-up: transformation in the public sector takes time, and if it is to take advantage of the possibilities of emerging technologies, then it needs to plan for the long-term.

And while it might take a brave rune-reader to earmark the technologies that will shape the public services of 2030, there’s plenty that can be done now to ensure that the public sector is a place where innovation can flourish, whatever it may end up looking like. For the Government’s ambitious Transformation Strategy to succeed, it will need access to more digital skills, clear governance and an open culture: Public Services 2030 will hear from HMRC’s Interim CDIO Mike Potter and Defra’s Permanent Secretary Clare Moriarty about how their Departments have tried to create this.

The importance of thinking innovatively about public services couldn’t be clearer. By 2030, the NHS is forecast to require an extra £65bn  to provide the same level of care to citizens, while the UK will have an  extra 1.5 million citizens claiming state pensions . With public sector budgets facing a  continuing squeeze , Government is being asked to deliver more for less. Technology can offer a way out of this apparent bind, and the new NHS Digital CEO Sarah Wilkinson will use her keynote address to discuss how we can deliver the sustainable and adaptable solutions we need to safeguard public services.

While the challenges are great, so are the opportunities for both Government and Industry. We hope that Public Services 2030 will help to inspire and stimulate those who are inventing the future of public services today, and build an environment that will allow them to flourish tomorrow. After all, as another award-winning 20th Century thinker Peter Drucker put it, “the best way to predict the future is to create it.”

techUK would like to thank Global Data for supporting Public Services 2030. For more information and to reserve your place, please click  here


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