2020 Public Service Trust at the RSA

4 Feb 2009 by Karl Hallam

The RSA now hosts a new think tank called the 2020 Public Services Trust. Cadence Works attended their seminar this week on local partnership working between public bodies, with the recent focus of our work on locality innovation of the Whitehall Innovation Hub in mind.

It kicked off with a presentation by the Leader of Nottingham City Council and was followed by a response by an Academic from the University of Birmingham's Centre for Public Service Partnership. An interesting discussion followed on a variety of themes, with acknowledgement that the quality of such partnerships is highly variable from place to place. It was also agreed that partnerships between two bodies can be great on one topic and awful on another.

Jon Collins suggested that 5 years ago his Council did not understand partnership, but things had improved while expressing some fears around public understanding of, for example, Local Strategic Partnerships. He later noted that many of his Councillor colleagues perhaps felt disaffected because they did not understand them either.

John Tizard (and yes the two Jo(h)ns thing was confusing, when people suggested they agreed with ‘John') made lots of interesting point, but a few things from the discussion, nicely chaired by Ben Lucas (Head of 2020) caught the eye especially.

First was the idea of curtailing partnerships that are no longer needed. This chimed with Cadence's view that it would be incredibly innovative of public bodies to stop doing things that don't work, rather than layering initiative upon initiative. This is where accountability really is crucial. Sensibly stopping doing something outdated can land politicians in potential ‘u-turn' territory instead of demonstrating their strong leadership.

Second was the idea of how partnerships come into being as being very important. This gave Cadence the chance to suggest that enforced partnerships can result in ‘consent and evade', something picked up on a Work Foundation seminar on public value last year. Another academic, inevitably some might say, thought a step back to look at definitions of partnerships was necessary. His point was that often what we call partnership is in fact much more that that and is actually integration of organisations, whereas other partnerships were just commercial contracts.

Matthew Taylor, boss of the RSA, made some good points (or rather he introduced a bit of humour, which always helps in such potentially dry topics ... although joking about Doncaster could have back fired) and resisted the temptation to frame it in the Cultural Theory terms his blog has focused on recently.

It will be interesting to see how the 2020 Trust proceeds, as I am sure Matthew is keen for it say something new about the future of public services. In some respects the debate is caught up on the perpetual arguments about the ‘Centre' giving freedom to local areas, but while there is a debate to be had there, often perceived lack of permission is a convenient excuse for inaction at a local level.

Other posts on innovation.

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