Adrian Brown: As David Cameron knows, the devil is in the delivery

Cameron's new implementation taskforces are a welcome step if government wants to prioritise impact. But delivery remains an uphill struggle

By Adrian Brown

11 Jun 2015

Last week Downing Street announced the creation of ten new implementation taskforces, to keep track of key policy priorities. This speaks volumes about the difficulties David Cameron has encountered when trying to turn his ideas into impact on the ground. 

Echoing Tony Blair’s famous line about the “scars on his back” he suffered when pushing through NHS and education reforms, Cameron has railed against what he terms the “buggeration factor” of trying to get things done in Whitehall. 

The taskforces are a key part of addressing this problem in his second term. As CSW reported, they cover a broad range of policy priorities for the new government, from housing and immigration to healthcare and troubled families. Although the policies are wide-ranging, the taskforces hone in on very specific, measurable targets within these policy areas. 

Related articles
Downing Street moves to tighten grip on Whitehall with new "Implementation Taskforces"
Former chief of Tony Blair's Delivery Unit: use performance data to fight public cynicism
Dear prime minister: now is the time to reboot the centre of government
Smarter working in the civil service: TW3 Awards 2015 Highlights

As Michael Barber’s Delivery Unit showed in the Blair years, such a narrow focus is key. Stretch yourself too thin, and you risk trying to boil the ocean. 

Prioritising impact is an idea whose time has come. From my experience working on government performance and transformation in the UK and overseas, I know that too often governments focus on policy announcements at the expense of delivery. At the Centre of Public Impact, our mission is to redress this balance. 

This week the Centre released a survey of over 1,000 public officials across five continents. The results were striking; 92 per cent of them said that governments could do better at achieving impact, with nearly half saying there was significant room for improvement. The Centre aims to help get these numbers down by bringing together world leaders to learn, exchange ideas and inspire each other to achieve better results.

So what is it about governments which makes effective implementation so difficult? Our survey cited a lack of funding as one major obstacle. But interestingly it was poor coordination, rather than a lack of resources, that topped the list of barriers to impact. 

Political considerations, concerns over leadership and lack of tools to measure progress on projects were the other key constraints identified. Governments need to tackle these obstacles to delivery, but they also need to work together. 

Historically there have been institutes and think tanks abound for governments to share policy ideas. However, delivery as an idea has been neglected by comparison. This needs to change, and this is why the Centre has been created.  

Our global events, roundtables and website will highlight what has worked and where challenges require new approaches. Our findings will be shared to help governments and their partners gain a  greater understanding of what works and why. We aim to provide an opportunity for  leaders to learn, share ideas and inspire each other to turn policies into practical reality in a safe and supportive environment.  

Inspiring examples are out there, from Martin O’Malley’s StateStat programme in Maryland to Australia’s online myGov service. And they must be studied and shared, for the benefit of citizens everywhere. 

The government will need to tackle the key obstacles to delivery, and the taskforces are a good way to start. But Cameron also needs to learn from the successes of others. The success of his second term depends on it. 

Read the most recent articles written by Adrian Brown - Opinion: A quiet revolution in public services has got Whitehall’s attention

Share this page