10th June 2015

Delivering innovation in local government

When Capita was ranked number three in the UK (and 60 globally) in Forbes' list of Innovative Companies it will have surprised some people. Capita people dress conventionally, there are no pinball machines in reception, we're pretty normal really! Forbes picked up on the fact that our actual results – innovation delivered – were very strong.

As the author of this piece I work in Local Government within Capita and have previously worked directly for councils, so I can look across both and make these observations.

Local government people are innovative, but the context isn't. When we bring council people into Capita it often unlocks their entrepreneurialism. If there’s a way of adding more value then we want to know about it, because we have to add value to make money, and we can invest in good ideas.

We supported the Public Service Launchpad, a programme focused on developing early-stage ideas in the public sector (with support from mentors), and on the talent that could unlock them. It was notable that council people made great progress, when put in a supportive, rapid drumbeat environment of weekly progress accountability and constructive, structured, challenge.

The simple reality is that councils are local monopoly providers of essential services, publicly funded, democratically rationed, and exceptionally accountable. The regulatory and risk regime for any organisation with those characteristics is very challenging and it is astonishing how innovative that sector is, given those factors.

Innovation is easier when the people providing the cash want you to take 'risks' – to try out new ideas, to grow. Shareholder funds are very different to taxpayers' money. The counterbalance is that risks shouldn’t be foolhardy, and a possible area of innovation strength for Capita is its level of internal challenge. We robustly qualify opportunities before proceeding and we’re not afraid to stop something halfway through, or even later.

Internal processes are often more challenging than client negotiation. The major challenge for us all is how to find better ways of blending the attributes of different sectors to innovate together – bringing social purpose, commercial challenge, rigorous delivery, community expertise and democratic mandate into one place. Some of our joint ventures with councils are quietly doing this, by creating entities that can draw on the best of both owners, without being in thrall to either.

This sets a very exciting agenda for cross-sectoral leadership as we face the challenges ahead. See more here.

By Jonathan Flowers, Capita's Local Government market director and Veredus strategic adviser

This article was first published in ActionAid's Insights on Innovation 

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