Facing fears at the summit finale

Day two of the summit: two local authority chiefs tell it like it is and an inspirational speaker allays fears about innovation
Eddie Obeng public services summit
Professor Eddie Obeng lifted the mood as the 2011 summit came to an end. Photograph: Sam Friedrich/Guardian

Following on from yesterday's discussion by Frank Field of the definition of public service, day two of the summit saw both John Barradell, chief executive of Brighton & Hove council, and Andrea Hill, chief executive of Suffolk, speaking on the topic of 'what should we expect from the state?'

Barradell argued that the state should be an arbitrator of need rather than a provider of services; he was realistic about how this could happen. However big the public sector, the private sector dominates the lives of most communities, Barradell said, and service users needed to move away from a view of themselves as customers to active participants.

His council had worked with citizens to find clear principles around which to design public services and recommissioned services are now based around outcomes the city says it wants.

In a reasoned and engaging speech, Barradell said it was a clever way to both engage citizens and at the same time hold them accountable for the result.

Pulling no punches, Hill said Suffolk is not engaged in wholesale outsourcing but acknowledged that the council is "divesting" services. Suffolk, she said wants to become a council that sets policy and creates markets rather than worrying about smaller operational decisions, though it wasn't clear how much of an impact this would have on customers.

After a discussion on social enterprises and the cost of council-run services such as care homes, Hill ended with an image of street crossing patrols. Suffolk wants to encourage the community to take on the provision of lollipop ladies, as part of its "full rethink" of the authority's relationship with the citizen. Hill posed the question: "who decided that the state should provide lollipop ladies anyway?".
It was a tough crowd. Delegates raised hands to declare disbelief at the council's approach and questioned whether the input of others had been taken into account but in later discussions it appeared there was more sympathy than at first supposed.

"At least she's asking the question – can we do this differently?" said one delegate, while another pointed out how that media could put public services under pressure, as had been the case at Suffolk.
There were excellent follow up sessions on the future role of social enterprise and what leadership should look, which provoked more debate but it was the final session of the day that had everyone excited.
Professor Eddie Obeng is the founder and learning director of the Pentacle Virtual business school and a member of the Design Council. Over two days we've heard speakers from across the public sector and beyond discuss innovation and its role in designing public services of the future.

Uttering the word innovation can often invoke fear but in the final session of the summit there was palpable enthusiasm.
With an electric stage presence, Obeng dared the audience to speak up about what they were most afraid of during his speech (that he'd over-run came top of the list). Point by point, he addressed and dismissed delegates' fears before explaining this had to be done to really bring innovation into organisations.

It was a brilliant speech and by the end, a room full of sombre public service leaders laughed at their fear of change and promised to banish the word cuts from their vocabulary.

It was both stirring and inspiring and as people left the room it seemed, at least for a while, that they might have agreed with David Brindle's words from the first day – that things weren't quite that bad.

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