There has been much discussion in the UK and other countries about the adoption of private-sector business techniques in the public sector. There is genuine concern over whether they are appropriate. Do they need adaptation? Is the public sector uniquely different? The challenge therefore for top management in the public sector is to find ways of addressing and overcoming these concerns in order to maintain the momentum that is already under way.
The Department of Social Security is leading one of the most ambitious programmes yet of management reform in the public sector, with executive agencies now covering more than 97% of the Department's activities. To put the Department into perspective in business terms, it is equivalent to a company that handles more money each year than the annual turnover of BP, ICI and BT put together, and operates a money transfer system on a scale larger than any of the clearing banks. More importantly, through National Insurance, pensions and the other benefits it provides, almost every man, woman and child is a customer of the organisation.
The main features of management reform will, of course, be familiar to many in the private sector. We are seeking to establish and maintain strategic control by the creation of a new Departmental Board in order to give greater top-down focus on what we and ministers want for Social Security during the first decade of the next century and beyond.