'Deliverology' is the way forward, says Barber

Former head of the Prime Minister's Delivery Unit Sir Michael Barber tells PAC conference proper leadership is crucial in delivering results, as is a long-term strategy
Sir Michael Barber
Keynote speaker: Barber said prime minister's involvement was a decisive factor in successful delivery

Setting out the challenges to delivering results in the public sector, Sir Michael Barber says involved leadership and better productivity are key to delivering enhanced public services.

Speaking as the keynote speaker at the Public Administration Committee (PAC) conference last night, Barber, the former head of the Prime Minister's Delivery Unit (PMDU), said productivity was imperative. He said that as global pressure on public services steadily rises – through pressure on enhanced outcomes, customer services and efficiencies – so too is the need for the right approach, "or deliverology".

He said the PDMU's approach to success included good systems for measuring outcomes, setting targets, conducting priority reviews – "check the reality of delivery at the frontline" – and quickly identifying corrective action. Getting the key relationships right, down from the prime minister to civil servants and the wider sector was also important, as well as having an involved leadership.

On the dilema of leadership he said: "You have to have a long-term strategy if you want to have a significant and lasting impact; but the long-term strategy has to deliver short-term results otherwise you won't be believed," he told the conference at Nottingham Trent University.

As chief adviser on delivery for the former prime minister Tony Blair, Barber was responsible for implementing a wide range of priority programmes including health, education and policing.

Barber said that former prime minister's involvement was "a decisive factor" in successful delivery.

One of the PMDU's successes, Barber said, was hitting the four-hour target for patients waiting in accident and emergency units. This was achieved with clear accountability and incentives and engaging with the delivery chain, as well as tailoring support for specific problems and performance management "to the very end".

He added that transformation depended on the combination of three elements: "the right mindset, efficient performance management and bold reform."

The performance management regime he developed for the PMDU was really starting to have an effect, but there still remained room for more development, said Barber, who is now a partner in McKinsey's global public sector practice, working on issues related to performance, organisation and reform in government and public services in the US and elsewhere.

Since leaving the unit, he said, other countries have been influenced by the methodology, or deliverology, used by the unit.

The conference has brought together academics and practitioners from across the global public sector to explore themes relating to public administration in an age of austerity.

Joyce Liddle, academic leader for the conference and professor of public sector management at Nottingham Business School, said: "We're bringing together academics and practitioners from a broad range of disciplines to explore a huge variety of questions about the changing nature of public services.

"Coming almost immediately after the UK general election and during a time of acute financial constraints in the public sector, the key sub-themes this year include the new political landscape, efficiency, innovation and service improvement."

Other speeches delivered at the conference included "systems thinking in the public sector" by professor Brian Collins, chief scientific adviser to the Department for Transport and Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, and the methological challenges of comparing private and public sector management by professor Jari Vuori from the University of Eastern Finland.

The National School of Government and the PMPA Practitioners Forum are also running a forum on "developing effective policy in an era of austerity", designed for practitioners who are adapting to new financial, economic, social and demographic realities.

The conference ends tomorrow.

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