“Public Services have coped well with austerity, so far”..
Ben Page – Chief Executive of Ipsos MORI – advised an audience of Public Sector executives and leaders that in general, public services have coped well since the government’s austerity programme began in 2010.
Ben was addressing the Odgers Interim’s Public Sector Drinks Reception which this year took place on Wednesday 17th July at The Grand Connaught Rooms in London, and was entitled “The State of the Public Sector – how do citizens, voters, patients and students feel as the age of austerity continues to bite?”
Ben showed that the majority (65%) of people haven’t noticed changes to the services provided by their local council. He also tackled the issue of so called ‘loony councils’ and used Hackney as an example: in 2001, 23% of Hackney residents were satisfied with the Council but by 2013 that figure was 74%.
He highlighted the ongoing and well-worn challenge that public services face; 30% strongly disagree they will be personally happy to accept less from their local council than they currently get in order to help pay off the national debt.
The NHS was another core theme of the speech with Ben summarising the fact that 82% of the public think the NHS will face a severe funding problem in the future, 66% think it provides good value for money to tax payers, and most are still satisfied with it, despite the Keogh and Francis reports.
Other topics covered included the finding that youth unemployment is seen by one in eight captains of industry as a key problem – higher than both lending and the financial crisis – as well as whether quality of life has - or will - vary between generations. Ben then went on to tackle young peoples’ attitudes towards the welfare state and also the theme of ‘Worried Britain’ by highlighting that despite public sentiment, the UK now has the lowest murder rate since 1978, crime rates are running at half 1990s levels and that it is no more ‘broken’ than many other societies. He justified this by highlighting that Spain, Poland and France all have lower levels of social trust than the UK.
Ben commented: “We all know that we are in tough times and ‘Austerity’ has now become a part of our everyday vernacular. In 2010, a lot of people were pessimistic but the public sector has proved to be relatively resilient up until now, but there are still challenges on the horizon. The pressure is most definitely on to lead rather than manage, yet many organisations are fearful about the future; both for the services they provide and also for their own very existences.
Ben added: There’s no doubting the agenda just keeps getting bigger and as a result a more defined focus is now becoming more and more important. It’s therefore vital that organisations of all shapes and sizes are proactive, adaptive and flexible - especially as there are now huge opportunities from technology to really understand behaviours and to interact more.
Ben concluded: No one knows what will happen in the future – we may muddle through austerity or have a big enough shock to fundamentally change public services. But so far things are much better than many would have predicted in 2010.”
Ben joined MORI in 1987 after graduating from Oxford University in 1986, and was one of the leaders of its first management buyout in 2000. A frequent writer and speaker on leadership and performance management, he has directed hundreds of surveys examining service delivery, customer care and communications.
From 1987-1992 Ben worked in Ipsos MORI’s private sector business on corporate reputation and consumer research, working for companies like Shell, BAE Systems, Sky TV and IBM. Since 1992 he has worked closely with both Conservative and Labour ministers and senior policy makers across government, leading on work for Downing Street, the Cabinet Office, the Home Office and the Department of Health, as well as a wide range of local authorities and NHS Trusts. Ben is currently on advisory groups at the CBI, Design Council, Kings Fund, Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR), and the Social Market Foundation (SMF).
He was also named one of the "100 most influential people in the public sector" by The Guardian, and one of the 50 "most influential" by both Local Government Chronicle and The Health Service Journal. He is also a winner of a British Market Research Association (BMRA) award and a 2005 Market Research Society (MRS) medal.
Grant Speed, managing director of Odgers Interim, said; “The Public Sector has and is still going through unprecedented change so listening to Ben’s insight was invaluable – especially as ‘Austerity’ is such a contentious issue which divides both public and professional opinion. It was also encouraging to hear positive messages which the sector can take heart from and build on over the coming years.”