Sedwill hails National Leadership Centre after inaugural event on public service collaboration

NLC chief tells CSW that “big wicked" policy problems will require increased collaboration across the public sector

Photo: NLC

By Richard Johnstone

05 Feb 2020

Cabinet secretary Sir Mark Sedwill has hailed the work on the National Leadership Centre after attending the network’s first major event that brought together over 400 of the UK’s leading public service professionals to discuss public service integration.

The centre has been founded to help public service leaders build cross-sector connections gives them the opportunity to share ideas and work together to tackle strategic problems that need a multi-agency response. It is also intended to provide coaching in areas including future technologies, like AI and robotics and their use and impact in public services.

The first annual event, held last week, brought together 450 senior figures across the civil service, local government, the NHS, police and fire services to hear about collaboration. As well as hearing from Sedwill, the session also included contributions from the head of Amazon UK Doug Gurr, and the mayor of Tulsa, Oklahoma in the United States, GT Bynum.


Speaking after the event, Sedwill said that the NLC “was created to deliver a flagship programme for our public service leaders, who perform vital and highly challenging work”.

He added: “Everyone involved in the NLC is committed to helping these leaders cultivate a network of peers with whom they can share vital experiences and lessons from the front- line. Increased collaboration and integration of public services is essential as we head into ever-more complex and challenging operating environments.”

The centre has been created following a report on how to train leaders across public services to boost innovation and cooperation, led by Sir Gerry Grimstone, the lead non-executive director at the Ministry of Defence. Grimstone and his panel concluded that a new programme aimed at “emerging top leaders of public services”, and the NLC has three main elements – creating a network of senior figures, bringing together the 100 new entrants into the top cohort of public service jobs each year, and researching what collaboration works.

'Our job is to show what good looks like'

Speaking to CSW after the event, Kristina Murrin, the NLC’s chief executive, said the centre was focused on providing “stimulus for behaviour and traits to get them [senior public service leaders] go beyond being a good line manager for their  direct organisation and get them impacting wider across the system”.

This is what separates the NLC from sector-specific academies, she said.

“There are big wicked problems aren't going to be solved by one sector – climate change is probably the most extreme but there’s knife crime and homelessness and others. That that's our space – the bits that are systemic issues.”

Local public sector leaders are keen for greater integration on the ground, but need practical help to create the systems for it, and the NLC is undertaking work to find out what works best, Murrin said.

“At the centre we're gathering existing research, whether that be academic about what works or case studies of where good practice is happening, as well as our own independent research. We've got five big place based pilots going on at the moment to see what's working. Our job is to show what good looks like. Because the will is there but the question [leaders ask] is ‘what do you want me to do? What do I need to change?’

“We're looking practically at what is working, that you can then steal and apply in your own way.”

The NLC board includes a number of former civil servants, including current Financial Reporting Council chief executive and ex-HMRC permanent secretary Sir Jon Thompson and National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children chief executive, and former civil servant, Peter Wanless,

Wanless told CSW that the NLC could help public service leaders better understand the needs of communities.

“If you start from the context of people's lives, and you listen to them, and you understand the context and the reasons for them being where they are, it leads you to a quite different place [compared to] when you are delivering really important national aspirations down a particular government silo.”

He said that he “really enjoyed my time in this in the civil service and I had some great jobs” that helped lead “quite a lot of significant change”.

But the challenges change, he said. “For example, when I was director of education, we made progress on the importance of five or more good GCSEs and the particular importance of English and maths, and that unlocks an awful lot of opportunity for an awful lot of children. But it's not the answer to the issues and challenges facing some other children.

“I think the National Leadership Centre as a great opportunity to bring together leaders across those various perspectives that have an impact on these people's lives. Especially for vulnerable people, it's very often not that they're unknown to the services, there's almost a multiplicity of interventions. But designing those in a way that's sensitive to their context and helping them move forward is really exciting and interesting. I think we saw plenty of evidence of leaders are beginning to think in that way, and showing that it is possible to develop citizen-centred services. That has the potential to really make a positive difference.”

He said that previous initiatives to develop such an approach, which range from Total Place under the 2009 Labour government to the community budgets and Troubled Families programme under the coalition, “have been characterised by being exceptional”.

Although there is information to learn from previous schemes, they have also been based through particular departmental channels and associated with particular ministers.

“They have pots of money associated with them and key performance indicators and timetables and targets over a period of time, so you test and learn and evidence in the kind of bubble, whereas this is about a philosophy of leadership.

“If we are designing how we organise the way in which we work to better connect to the benefit of citizens, that goes deeper than particular policies and plans.”

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