How can improving project management and delivery through collaborative partnerships boost innovation in the public sector? This was the question debated last Wednesday (18 July) at a roundtable event hosted by Womble Bond Dickinson (WBD) at Civil Service Live 2018. 

Taking place in Westminster last week, Civil Service Live is the government’s annual, cross-department learning conference, attracting thousands of civil servants across the UK to learn, network and share best practice – with the goal of providing better public service.

The roundtable event, Partnering for excellence – improving outcomes and mitigating risks, was chaired by Peter Schofield, Permanent Secretary of the Department for Work and Pensions, and attended by a range of Civil Servants from the Cabinet Office, Department for Education, Department for BEIS and DExEU. 

Lawyers, project managers and business advisers from WBD and their delegates discussed the challenges facing the public sector including how to achieve the optimal balance of managing risk, delivering quality outcomes and value for money, adhering to due process and enabling innovation and creativity. 

The event also presented a good platform to develop themes from Close Encounters: The Power of Collaborative Innovation, a research commissioned by WBD to examine the factors driving a significant increase in collaborative activity between large commercial organisations and innovative start-ups. 

Malcolm Dowden, Legal Director at WBD, helped to lead the debate, drawing on his contributions to Lord Holmes of Richmond's report – Distributed Ledger Technologies for Public Good: leadership, collaboration, innovation.The report highlights the pressing need for collaboration within government, and between government, academia and the private sector to evaluate and harness the potential of DLT to drive better decision-making and delivery through common access to high quality, up to date and authentic data.  

Nick Barwood, Partner and Board member at WBD, commented:

"Partnering for excellence is something an increasing number of clients are looking for from their legal advisers, so the debate on Wednesday was timely in understanding the key challenges facing the public sector as well as the many opportunities for collaboration." 

Jonathan Bower, Planning and Infrastructure Partner at WBD added:

"As departments face an ever-greater pace of change, and with the back drop of recent high profile private sector collapses such as Carillion, now is the time to focus on improving project management and delivery through collaboration with partners that can enable and boost innovation. Everyone around the table recognised that in reality, the challenges across every sector and organisation are not actually that different – the challenge is around how we apply best practice principles in the face of so many competing demands and interactions. Government's attitude to risk is a key factor and it has adapted to those competing demands with a different mind-set to meet the challenge."

The session concluded with three key areas of focus

  • as the nature of partnering is diverse the approach to risk and taking a longer term strategic view will bring an extra dynamic
  • the approach to procurement needs to balance accountability without impacting on innovation
  • there are challenges within government, as in any large organisation – there are operational silos vertically within departments and horizontally across departments which need to be broken down to take learning and best practice.

WBD already works closely with UK Local and Central Government authorities, as well as other organisations in the wider public and not for profit sectors. The firm has extensive experience in understanding the requirements of working in the public arena with a strong focus on driving best value for the public purse. 

WBD was appointed last year as a Tier 1 firm under the RM3786 Legal Services Framework and currently advises Government Departments Agencies and Arms' Length Bodies including Highways England, MoJ, DWP and BEIS, providing a full-service of legal expertise across a range of disciplines, including general commercial, real estate, litigation and employment advice.