Simon Hamilton: We should improve how government works: smaller but smarter, cheaper but better

Simon Hamilton addressing NICVA conference on public innovation - NICVACEESpeaking at NICVA’s Innovation – development, design and delivery conference to launch their Fostering Innovation Through Public Procurement report Simon Hamilton said that “Innovation in Public Services’ wasn’t an oxymoron.

We should have vision and look to a future that is better.

The DFP minister’s vision is that NI’s public services should be amongst the most innovative in the world. He said that “while the Chancellor may have slightly taken his foot off the austerity pedal in the budget yesterday” (claiming it will end around 2019-2020), “there will still be deep cuts in public spending”. Locally there will be a 1% reduction in NI’s budget for next year.

He said that reducing size of public sector, running a voluntary exit scheme that will roll out beyond civil service to pubic sector, and slimming down the number of departments were all of these are absolutely necessary.

But we should also improve how government works. A smaller but a smarter government. A cheaper but a better government.

Concepts like DFP’s Innovation Lab would also need to be part of the mix to drive progress. While the £30m he’d ringfenced for his Change Fund was eyed up jealously by other ministers during budget talks, it stayed in place.

The third sector has a critical role to play in the reform programme in Northern Ireland. It can work with the public sector to influence and build innovative and improved public services and achieve the best results for our citizens.

Representatives from across the voluntary and community sectors are involved in many of our Public Sector Innovation Labs, bringing their areas of expertise to influence the co-design of policy and public services. Such partnerships produce valuable lessons which help us adapt and apply best practice to meet the specific needs of the people of Northern Ireland.

How To be DanishSimon Hamilton also recalled some lessons about attitudes towards design and architecture he learned from the book How to be Danish he’d read this summer, humorously adding that he wasn’t planning to become Danish!

While NICVA’s report looked at public procurement, designer Wayne Hemingway turned matters on their head. Hemingway Design’s philosophy is that

Design is about improving things that matter in life.

He argued that turning a sow’s ear into a silk purse didn’t always require lots of money, but it required creativity and guts. He cited large scale public projects like Boscombe Surf Reef that initially went wrong – and incurred the wrath of the local “bastard press” – yet in the long term, patience was rewarded with success.

Wayne Hemingway addressing NICVA conference on public innovation - NICVACEEMany world-renowned designers and creative businesses have grown around under-educated and unqualified people who have started working in dodgy markets and unsafe buildings.

While some Wayne’s example projects were linked to the public sector and local government – see his article on Generous Design – many involved designers whose talents and businesses had blossomed without public funding. Yet they worked in commercial enterprises which had a heart. Hemingway’s belief was that:

A sharing economy is the future of a balanced society

In the Q&A after their talks, Simon Hamilton talked about the public sector needing to face up to taking risks, though balanced the idea of a bohemian a free-for-all creative environment with a reemphasis of the role government and public sector can play in upholding standards and safety!

What risks would you like government to take in the spirit of innovation in area of providing or procuring services?

  • Ian James Parsley

    I’m fairly sure not a single contributor mentioned culture – i.e. the culture inherent in our civil service and public service bureaucracy.

    Therein lies the problem (and the reason the Minister will fail).

  • Zeno

    “there will still be deep cuts in public spending”. Locally there will be a 1% reduction in NI’s budget for next year.”

    Jeez, if you can’t lose/save/find 1% somewhere you shouldn’t be in Government, much less Finance Minister.

  • Sir Rantsalot

    Much as I’m not a dup person. I don’t see any actual policies coming from the other parties. So a sensible thought-out proposal is to be welcomed. I’m glad I no longer live in the UK, but ould Simon seems to be a person who is trying to put real world proposals forward. Well done that man.

  • Kevin Breslin

    I’m a fairly modest scientist, but turning a sew’s ear into a silk purse requires some serious organic chemistry, even carnivorous moths feeding on the sew’s ear need a swarm of partners at the job.

  • chrisjones2

    I agree. Its a fundamental problem.

    The entire local and senior management is local and career civil service / public sector. No new blood. No new ideas.

    Promotion by buggins turn seeking ‘safe pairs of hands’ who will never make mistakes as they rarely make decisions – those all go to Ministers and are carefully crafted so they get the blame when inevitably things do not work as intended if at all

    The top is dominated by ‘policy’ people who look down on the derided ‘operational’ people who actually do things – like a modern version of aristocrats demeaning those in ‘trade’

    A complete utter shake up is needed but there will not be one as they are also closely grafted to MInisters now and the latter want people they can ‘trust’and who wont expose their own lack of abilities. #

    The bottom line is that it all suits those inside the system and our entire polity focuses on the war with themuns and little on the efficiency of how we are governed. Noone ever gets sacked for incompetence …they are just shuffled away

  • Croiteir

    Have a look at the debacle concerning oaklee trinity and the purchase of property in Bangor? The guy said he did not know that one of the houses involved belonged to his brother? The civil servant claimed that he did not think there was a potential conflict of interest before finally admitting that there could be. No one sacked as of yet to my knowledge Starts about 1 hour 40 mins in.

  • Part-Time Commenter

    This comment sort of sums up some of the public ignorance on these matters. You don’t seem to appreciate quite how tight things are, the competing demand at play and the knife-edge that vital services are operating on.

  • Part-Time Commenter

    Hear, hear.

  • Zeno

    Do you know how much the budget is?

  • Part-Time Commenter

    Approximately £10 billion. 1% of that is £100 million. Please tell me where you would take that from in light of most recent commitments and current confusion over welfare reform.

  • Zeno

    I think it is closer to £23 billion. That leaves £230 million to find.
    I don’t know what the plans for government spending are for next year. But to save £230 million last year I would have not spent £180 million upgrading sports grounds. I would have not wasted the millions on the Police Training Centre at Cookstown in previous years and I would not be paying the Staff for the Office of First Minister Deputy First Minister £16 million a year…….. especially when they can’t explain what they actually do. I would also reduce MLA’s expenses since some are giving it away to “Research Companies” ……….. I could go on and on.
    They waste so much money, 1% pfft.!!!

  • Sergiogiorgio

    What risks? How about a weekly black bin collection? Innovation my ass!