Monday, September 30, 2013


Last Thursday, a conference organised by the independent thinktank Wales Public Services 2025 concluded that there would be increased pressures on the Welsh public sector over the next few years as government expenditure continues to shrink.

One report presented at the event suggested that with increased demand for funding in education, health and social services in Wales, there could be dramatic cuts of up to £1.4 billion in areas such as culture, economic development, transport and housing.

Another study indicated that such cuts would inevitably result in a more fundamental change in mind-set on the part of public service leaders, staff and the general public over the next few years.

From my own perspective, the key question is whether the Welsh Government can continue to develop services in these areas alone to ensure their continuity?

In particular, it must consider whether all of the wisdom on making public services more efficient and effective lies within its own managers or whether it should bring in new ideas and solutions from outside the civil service?

One radical approach to such a quandary was launched earlier this month by the Mayor’s Office in the city of San Francisco.

The Entrepreneurship in Residence (EIR) programme is a competition to select talented teams of entrepreneurs who will work alongside senior government officials to help solve particular problems, help increase revenue, enhance productivity and create meaningful cost savings.

In doing so, the individuals chosen will drive innovative solutions in key areas such as healthcare, education, data, mobile and cloud services, transportation, energy and infrastructure.

And to ensure they quickly adapt to their new surroundings, they will be mentored by senior public sector leaders and supported through training on important topics related to working with government like open data standards, procurement and security.

So what are some of the problems these entrepreneurs can help to solve?

According to the City of San Francisco, these can range from examining how the public sector can leverage the growth in open data can enable better decisions, to how public assets can be utilised to generate additional revenue.

It can also include far more simple, but effective solutions to issues such as improving transport efficiencies and optimising the purchase and use of energy.

The public sector will clearly benefit from such an approach that brings entrepreneurial expertise and experience to bear on specific and protracted problems.

However, there is also the advantage for those entrepreneurs participating in the programme in that it will serve as a showcase for specific solutions that can be applied across other parts of government, which is a massive potential market for any business.

In fact, part of the selection process is that the city of San Francisco expects those chosen to “ramp up” their business through competitive offerings that governments consider purchasing because it has a measurable impact such as lower costs, enhanced productivity and increased revenue.

To a large extent, it could be argued that such a programme is acting as an incubator for those businesses who would want to provide solutions in the public sector but have yet no idea on how to access the purchasing process. Certainly, this is an idea that may be highly relevant to the Welsh public sector that is the largest purchaser of goods and services in our economy.

To date, using the private sector for delivery of public services has been largely a no-no to the successive Welsh governments that have held power since 1999.

However, I believe that this philosophy, whether you agree with it or not, should not preclude politicians from utilising private sector expertise and experience to ensure that we get the most from our public services.

Indeed, there are already examples, such as the potential for the South Wales Metro transport system, where businesspeople have driven forward innovative ideas through their drive and energy.

But more could certainly be done and there is certainly the entrepreneurial talent in Wales that could be drawn upon to help government solve some of its immediate problems.

With some economists suggesting that the public sector accounts for as much as 65 per cent of Wales’s economic output, adopting programmes such as the EIR could establish real opportunities to bring business and government together to not only create greater efficiencies but to also open up new markets for innovative Welsh solutions that can be applied across the rest of the UK.