Friday 11 July 2008

How Big

" How big, how good, where next?". An unusual title for a Government report I thought; but a good general question. about many things In this case about the" public services industry" ie public services provided through the third and private sectors.

I was at the launch of the BERR Review led by Dr DeAnne Julius in the HQ of what I still think of as the Department of Trade! My Deputy Dr Kyle was a member of the Julius Review but as he is in San Francisco (disgracefully deporting himself) I was deputising for him!

Julius says the public services industry is now a big and growing part of the economy. Indeed she argues that the UK is the global leader in this area. It accounts for a turnover of £80bn - the second highest in the world after the States but the most developed. It is 33% of the total public sector delivery. And it is an industry that has grown by 130% over the last 12 years So this is big business. And it will only grow.

John Hutton says its time we celebrated the contribution the 2 sectors make and particularly praised the third sector. He said that times are changing and whilst his parents would have regarded charity provision as a last resort, now many people see this as the first resort. He argues (correctly) that the ideological battles about this are over as what citizens want is good service The report looks at barriers and impediments and. I question the issue of "competitive neutrality" saying that many sector organisations can't get to the tender table because of poor capacity and infrastructure. I make this point in particular to crush the small business rep there who raises the supposed competitive advantage of charities and our tax breaks! (I regard such comments as the equivalent of spitting at Granny and I will have to pray for his endangered soul)

Afterwards I have a giggle with John Hutton about the interviews on that mornings "Today programme" and the interesting contribution of Mark Serotka attacking Julius. John Hutton asks if I am going on the Trade delegation he is leading to Washington to promote the public service industry in the States. The private sector are well represented but though I was asked I can't go: they wanted participants to contribute to the cost and I just felt that acevo members might not think this a good use of their subscriptions. But it would have been fascinating. And flattering to be asked.

I think this report is important and it was amusing to be reading the PASC report on third sector delivery alongside the BERR report. You can tell the huge difference in the intellectual quality of the two when you compare them. The PASC trots out old Labour nostrums whilst DeAnne Julius actually does research and pays attention to evidence. But then that is what one would expect from a woman who is the Chair of Chatham House, a non exec on BP and Roche, a founding member of the Bank of England Monetary Committee and worked for the world bank and IMF. So evidence and research matter to her. Pity not to PASC. I'm writing an article for Public finance which will draw these comparisons out!

It's clearly international day as I then go off to do a lunch we have laid on to discuss international experience of delivering outsourced. employment Services and what opportunities there are for growth. Bob Melia heads Mentor Employment and Skills, a US social care firm. Bob has experience of the welfare to work market in Australia, the Netherlands, Israel as well as the States. We have drawn together a round table of top government officials, Think Tanks and acevo members to discuss. So I talk about the conclusions from Julius and how we need to be welcoming a bigger role. We should be massively expanding our delivery of welfare to work and I'm sure that is what we will get from the talented James Purnell

All good fun must come to an end and a fantastic morning drains into a tortured afternoon. At the dentist. I comfort myself in the torture chamber that passes for the dentist's surgery with recollections of the early music concert in York Minster and the general theme of death and desolation. If I was in Opus Dei I would be enjoying the time of purgatory I was earning! Oh, and I discover that Chris Arnold who badly failed to mark my blog 10/10 actually works in my building. A floor above. So I've made arrangements to meet and correct his judgment.

David Brindle of "Guardian Society" thought the article (and my marking) a hoot when I saw him at the Julius launch.

I get home to discover a letter from my mother! She has sent me an article from "The Guardian" entitled "Jimmy the Jack Russell is out of control". It has a nice post-it note from Mama: " Where did I go wrong? I seem to have produced children who are lacking common sense!." She does not approve of my recent acquisition of a puppy! But I get a lovely lick from Sparkles (before he attacks my shoes and manages to untie the laces!)

Stephen Bubb

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