Public service: when will state start-ups stop being gadgets

Rising interest rates will put more and more pressure on governments. Even if one thinks, as I do, that the modern theory of money is not dead and that at the slightest freeze in the economy central bankers will launch the weapon of buying sovereign bonds, the last few weeks have shown that the financial markets have once again sovereign debt sustainability. The time is approaching when states will be forced to bring structural reforms out of the closet. But nobody knows where to start. While the UK seems in limbo, trying to extricate itself from the fallout of Brexit, he is one of the architects of “go out“, Dominic Cummings, who was the last to conceptualize modern civil service reform, giving pride of place to state-owned start-ups.

The result of a secular construction, centered around the capital, producing public services that cannot be paralyzed, the British State is perhaps the closest to the French State. Cummings’ thinking posits public service reform as the basis for all public policies. The idea is to end the following paradox: ministers are held accountable for what their ministries do, but have no control over them. To that end, he proposes increasing team rotation to keep only the most efficient, increasing compensation to bring back the best, assembling “red teams” responsible for defending the opposing point of view during strategic meetings… Above finally, it invites us to go beyond existing administrative organizations to move towards project-centric organizations.

A great organization does not change from the inside out.

Dominic Cummings has always been convinced that the UK’s survival would depend on increased investment in science and basic research, the only source of long-term productivity. It is in this vision that he promoted the concept of Focus Research Organizations (FRO). These FROs are similar to non-profit organizations, with their own budget financed by public and private funds, their own managerial autonomy. They focus on a specific area of ​​limited duration, with the aim of overcoming the bureaucracy of public research institutions. The best example was the UK Biobank, a genetic database for over half a million people.

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Despite initial criticisms of deviations from “standard academic scientific practice”, it has established itself since its inception in 2006 as one of the most influential biomedical initiatives. 28,000 accredited researchers from 86 countries used their data to publish 4,600 scientific articles and spawn countless new start-ups. Shortly after his departure, the Ministry of Finance cut funding lines for FROs, preventing their effective implementation. The failure of Dominic Cummings’ radical vision should not, however, hide the essentials.

Transforming a large organization from within is inevitably doomed to failure. To radically transform, as Clayton Christensen of Harvard has shown in relation to large corporations, one must not try to remodel, but create a new structure, separate from the initial organization, accepting that it can compete with it.

We need state start-ups, not made up of a handful of motivated young graduates with ridiculous budgets (11 million euros against 1,476 billion in public spending in France), constantly struggling to scratch access to data, but endowed with a regulatory perimeter. , with budgetary and managerial autonomy, capable of creating its own databases and information systems to interact with users. It is this model of independent agencies that was at the heart of the Swedish state reform and its recovery after the 1990s crisis. In a competitive labor market, such entities would have no difficulty in recruiting talent, as their social impact is obvious. France’s budgetary situation forces us to make difficult choices. Let’s not make the mistake of regarding state start-ups as a gimmick.


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