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?

Alan Meban. Normally to be found blogging over at Alan in Belfast where you’ll find an irregular set of postings, weaving an intricate pattern around a diverse set of subjects. Comment on cinema, books, technology and the occasional rant about life. On Slugger, the posts will mainly be about political events and processes. Tweets as @alaninbelfast.