Public service innovators

Prospect’s Politics Editor selects his top three public service innovators

Public service innovators


This article is part of a special series on top public service innovators, with nominations from Helen LewisPaul WaughSimon Parker and John Rentoul 

Kenneth Clarke

Ken Clarke may seem an unlikely top public service innovator. But, at 71 years old, the controversial Justice Secretary has decades of experience when it comes to public service reform. Frequently attacked for being too left-wing by Conservative colleagues, he has in fact the bravest of records when it comes to shaking up major public bodies: he remains, for example, the only post-war Home Secretary (1992-1993) to challenge the unaccountability and closed-shop vested interests of the police forces, ordering an independent inquiry into pay and repeatedly criticising police inefficiency in his short year in the job.

Today, he is said by friends “not to care” if he were to be sacked by David Cameron, a proposal periodically encouraged by the right-wing press, which seeks to portray him as ‘soft’ on crime. But while he remains in government, Clarke is still instigating radical reform. On 21 November, in his capacity as Lord Chancellor, Clarke unveiled what his department called “sweeping new proposals that will reform, modernise and improve the diversity of judicial appointments”. They include introducing independent laypeople to selection panels and boosting part-time judicial roles. Clarke himself expanded on his plans to widen the search for new entrants to the justice system: “Ability is not confined to certain narrow sections of society, in certain racial, social or other groups. The more widely we search, the more likely we are to find the best candidates. Becoming a judge must be, and must be seen to be, open to everyone.”

Clarke has also widened the restorative versus punitive justice debate with his focus on ensuring that jails are places of reform as well as retribution. He is currently expanding the working prisons programme as a means of tackling the problems of a “feral underclass”, the aim being to reduce re-offending and the accompanying burden on the taxpayer by “providing hard work in prison so that prisoners would be doing something productive, instead of doing nothing”.


Andrew Adonis

Andrew Adonis

Following twelve years at the heart of government under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, Lord Andrew Adonis emerged as Labour’s most innovative public service reformer. Blair replaced David Miliband with Adonis as head of his Policy Unit in 2001 and later appointed him as a minister in the Department for Children, Schools and Families, via a life peerage in the Upper House. Adonis, who comes from humble beginnings, pushed through the controversial tuition fees policy that he had first promoted in the Policy Unit, on the grounds that making the wider tax-paying public pay for the privileged to go to university was regressive, not progressive. But perhaps his greatest public service legacy was the creation of Academies, an innovation later seized upon by the Tory-led government.

As Transport Secretary under Brown, Adonis also laid the foundations for a UK-wide high-speed rail network, aimed at modernising the UK’s transport system to enable it to compete with the Continent and the Far East.

Out of party politics for now, Adonis is Director of the Institute for Government, where he is focusing, among other areas, on the establishment of more democratically elected mayors across the country. But some tip Adonis for a return to top-level politics in due course, and a seat in the House of Commons, from where he will doubtless continue with his unrivalled agenda for public service innovation.




We find it too tempting and easy to knock the Tube. Travelling on it is often unpleasant and occasionally maddening. But take a step back from the crowded, sweaty, announcements-ridden Underground and consider the enormity of the task that Transport for London (TFL) fulfils with broad success each year in Britain’s capital. Over a billion ‘customers’ – passengers – are taken from A to B, with each train travelling over 75,000 miles at a respectable average speed of 20 miles per hour.

Some 1,900 staff are on hand, usually with good knowledge of the local area as well as the network of lines, to help the hordes: at Waterloo for example, around 49,000 people pass through the station through the morning. During 2009 and 2010, the Underground operated 96.6% of all scheduled train services – the highest success rate for 15 years. It is currently investing record amounts in a massive upgrade plan.

TFL has shown innovation in all sorts of areas, including improving air quality with a new Clean Air Fund. Initiatives include having ‘eco-marshals’ at central London taxi ranks to prevent engine idling, the expansion of a dust suppressants trial, and the monitoring of ‘green walls’ of plants known to absorb pollution. It has also increased links with businesses that can help support sustainable transport and travel schemes.


Further reading

James Macintyre

James Macintyre is Prospect’s Politics Editor. He was previously a reporter for The Independent and a producer of BBC1’s Question Time, and is the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. 

1 comment

  • You can't just ditch a part of the BCR because you don't like it. Health beefnits are the lead items in all active travel interventions. It would be like removing time savings from a road scheme!Transport economics is the most dismal aspect of this dismal science. But you can't just make it up as you go along to prove your point.In any case, there are plenty of large schemes that have been given the thumbs up even if their BCRs were very low. IIRC the Jubilee Line Extension was 0.95:1, yet it was given the go ahead (by Heseltine). He realised, just as the London people do now, that there are lots of non-monetised beefnits of the scheme that outweigh its costs. I believe the Cycle Hire scheme is having a transformative effect on cycling's image in London, and will prove highly cost effective.

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