Nadine Smith is UK Director of the Centre for Public Impact (CPI), a not-for-profit company founded in 2015 by Boston Consulting Group (BCG) to catalyse and inform the debate on the future of Government.
CPI helps Governments think about policy decisions and the role of the public servant. Their current focus is on human government and its relationship with the citizen. Their first premise was that the answer lay in “technocratic tweaks and adaptations… action and delivery” but they went on to discover that there were more fundamental and complex issues at play.
Recently the CPI produced a report in which Nadine wrote “Government must be more human or risk becoming irrelevant.” She says there are three key elements to effective Government: legitimacy, policy and action. Of these, she has found that the conversation about legitimacy has been the most challenging, touching on mistrust, anxiety, apathy, and antipathy. She found that young people are “drifting away from the idea that Government could be of any help to them whatsoever.”
More than that, she observed that almost anyone who had been through a trauma – for example a broken relationship, issues at school, losing a business, environmental shocks – felt that there was a lack of kindness and care on the part of Government. In consequence many people are deciding that the only way to effect change is to “do it ourselves, in our own way” and with disregard to the law.
Nadine would concur with Michael Gove when he said in his Ditchley annual lecture on 27th June 2020 that “there is a deep disenchantment on the part of many of our citizens with a political system that they feel has failed them.” However, she wonders if the Government fully understands what is required in order to become more human; it is not just about moving a few civil servants out of Westminster and improving the quality of data.
She believes that the Government needs to think differently about what regions and localities can contribute. Each place in the UK has a different character and it is appropriate to provide them with more self-determination, enhancing their value and self-worth. Central Government can play a role in this by “coordinating, enabling and connecting.”
One of the leaders that the CPI has highlighted is Donna Hall, Chief Executive of Wigan at the time of the Wigan Deal (who features in episode 21 of this podcast). Nadine featured Wigan in a recent TEDx speech. She wonders whether wider adoption of the Wigan model is possible at present because the public are “exhausted” and a lot of healing needs to happen.
I put it to Nadine that the general public has a degree of cynicism about the Government ‘listening’ when follow up action is not taken. For example, progress has been made on less than a quarter of the recommendations of the 2013 Social Mobility Commission, and the Government presses on with HS2 despite the opposition to it. She believes that the Government has been preoccupied by Brexit and Covid.
She worked on the first social mobility paper with Alan Milburn and wonders if social mobility and exclusion are sometimes viewed in isolation from “the bigger picture.” When a small (or not so small) group of people fail to succeed repeatedly through no fault of their own, the economy as a whole suffers. The stability of the country is at risk, and it brings the legitimacy of the Government into question.
Nadine believes that another reason for Government inaction in the wake of consultation is that the system is unprepared for the scale of change required. CPI is working to help leaders understand system leadership and life-long organisational learning. If you are going to deploy the same performance measures and request the same data then you will tend to get the same answers, she says.