Hamilton Says We Could Have The Most Innovative Public Sector In The World
Speaking at the event which was organised by the Northern Ireland Assembly and Business Trust (NIABT), Simon Hamilton said: “As part of my public sector reform agenda, I have said that Northern Ireland’s government must become much more innovative. In fact, we can and should aspire to become the most innovative public sector in the world.
“I am aware however that when the words ‘public sector’ and ‘innovation’ are used together, it can elicit hoots of derision from some. The popular perception is that the public sector simply doesn’t innovate. That it isn’t capable of being creative. That because it isn’t motivated to create wealth in the same way that the private sector is, it isn’t orientated to transform itself. However, this stereotype doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Extraordinary things from the internet to the moon landing to the key components of Apple’s iPad and iPhone such as GPS and touchscreen technology are the result of government innovation or publicly sponsored research.”
Mr Hamilton added: “In some ways, government needs to innovate for the same reasons as private sector companies. We face external pressures that threaten our business. If we don’t change then the threats posed by alterations to the public expenditure environment with less spending overall and a shift from resource to capital and capital that requires public/private partnerships will result in Stormont failing to provide services that achieve the outcomes we all want. Innovation is essential if we are to overcome that challenge.
“Why then do I believe that Northern Ireland is perfectly placed to move to the forefront of international best practice in public sector innovation?
“For starters, we possess many similar attributes to states like the Nordic Countries and Singapore who are credited with having incredibly innovative governments as well as competitive economies. Small states in both geographical and population terms that don’t have an abundance of natural resources need to be outward looking and innovative in their approach and that includes in the public sector which, if efficient and effective, is every bit an asset in attracting investment as skills, infrastructure and low tax.
“We are already innovative in the public sector. Our work in developing shared services like IT and HR and in conjunction with private sector partners is amongst the best anywhere. Northern Ireland is pioneering work on connected health. Innovating in government isn’t alien to Northern Ireland.”
He said that Northern Ireland has an advantage as it has more time than many other sates, adding: “The public spending situation here has been immensely challenging but nowhere near as bad as other jurisdictions. Public spending is unlikely to rise in NI in the next number of years but neither is it going to fall as drastically as it did before. Some states have had to face up to the need to reform very, very quickly. The consequence is that change is forced upon them in a way and at a time that they wouldn’t choose because the platform is burning beneath them. So the financial environment might well be better here but we don’t have the luxury of thinking we can opt out of reform or innovation either. We need to begin transformation now, when we can, or suffer severe consequences in the years ahead.
“Northern Ireland also benefits from the integration of finance and reform responsibilities in one Department – the Department of Finance and Personnel. In London, the Cabinet Office is leading a radical reform agenda but implementation isn’t always easy because of issues around scale and the need to secure funding to make reform a reality from another department in the form of HM Treasury. In NI, we will benefit from having the newly created Public Sector Reform Division working in concert with our finance function inside DFP to assist the entire public sector to drive forward an ambitious and innovative programme of transformation.
“Our size, experience, circumstances and our structure… these four pillars of public sector innovation… will stand us in good stead as we pursue a path of reform.
“I believe that Northern Ireland possesses all the attributes necessary to build a truly innovative public sector. But it won’t be easy. And it won’t happen instantly either. If we aspire to be the best in the world at innovating in the public sector then we need to know where we’re starting from. How innovative are we already? What are we good at it and where do we need to improve?
“Next week I will meet with officials from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) Public Governance section. I want to draw on their expertise in public expenditure, procurement, e-government and other areas of public sector innovation and not just discover what international best practice is but begin to benchmark Northern Ireland against the best and learn how we can get better.
“Reforming the public sector isn’t easy, but nor can its need be ignored. Northern Ireland can and must begin to use the assets we have to create the most innovative government in the world. Public spending changes coupled with increasing public expectations mean that failure to innovate isn’t an option”.