Austerity is a good time to transform public services

Written by Professor Colin Coulson-Thomas FCMI - 08 December 2014

Now and during a time of austerity is a good moment for innovation in the provision of public services according to CMI Ambassador Prof. Colin Coulson-Thomas speaking at an Annual Public Sector Performance Management event, held this year in Abu Dhabi. The author of Transforming Public Services called for better support to key work-groups who have the greatest impact upon patients, clients and the public. He warned “sometimes people are wrestling with problems rather than creating and/or seizing opportunities that are affordable and can quickly deliver results.”

The professor outlined and illustrated what can be achieved, drawing upon a five year investigation for his report Transforming Public Services. He found that many public bodies are engaged in general, expensive, protracted and disruptive approaches such as restructuring and re-organisation rather than adopting more focused and cost-effective approaches such as changing the performance support provided to front-line work-groups undertaking difficult and stressful jobs.

Coulson-Thomas gave examples of how various forms of performance support can deliver multiple benefits for public-sector employees, members of the public, Government organisations and the environment. His report suggests “the era of struggling with a relatively large number of performance targets and single issue initiatives needs to be replaced by one of focus upon activities that help people to excel at those activities that have the greatest impact on the public, and also upon initiatives to help members of the public to help themselves.

The professor and CMI Ambassador called for what he termed 'new leadership': “A lot of public sector managers have tried top-down ways of directing, motivating and monitoring. Now is the time to switch the emphasis to helping and supporting. There are now very affordable ways of enabling large and scattered work-groups to emulate the approaches of their more successful peers. One can make it much easier for them to excel and comply, and more difficult for them to behave in undesirable ways that contravene laws, rules, policies, guidelines, precedents and codes.”

Encouragingly, evidence presented in the Transforming Public Services report suggests the approach it advocates can increase engagement and understanding, boost performance, reduce costs and stress, ensure better compliance and deliver other benefits for different stakeholder groups. More importantly in an age of austerity when public bodies face reduced funding at a time of rising demand and increasing expectations, these advantages can be obtained with existing people, cultures and corporate structures.

Dr Colin Coulson-Thomas, CMI Ambassador and author of Transforming Public Services and over 60 other books and reports is a member of the business school team at the University of Greenwich and holds a portfolio of private, public and voluntary sector appointments. He has held UK public appointments at national and local level and is currently a Lay Member of the General Osteopathic Council. He can be contacted via Transforming Public Services and his other recent books and reports can be obtained from:

Prof. Coulson-Thomas spoke on transforming public services during his chairman's opening remarks at the 2nd Annual Public Sector Performance Management conference that was held at the Hilton Abu Dhabi Hotel, Abu Dhabi, UAE.

Prof. Colin Coulson-Thomas

Prof. Colin Coulson-Thomas FCMI, an experienced chairman of award winning companies and vision holder of successful transformation programmes holds a portfolio of corporate, public and academic appointments. He has helped companies in over 40 countries to improve director, board and corporate performance. In addition to chairing corporate boards he chairs the group audit and risk committee of United Learning, chairs the statutory Education and Registration Standards Committee of the General Osteopathic Council of which he is a lay member, is a member of the business school team at the University of Greenwich, Director-General of IOD India for UK and Europe and leader of the OLJ's international governance initiative. Colin is the author of over 60 books and reports, including ‘Transforming Knowledge Management’, ‘Talent Management 2', ‘Transforming Public Services’ , 'Winning Companies; Winning People' and ‘Developing Directors’. Since being the world's first professor of corporate transformation he has held professorial appointments in Europe, North and South America, the Middle East, India and China. He was educated at the LSE, the London Business School and the Universities of Aston, Chicago, South Africa and Southern California. A Change Agent and Transformation Leader Award winner, Colin is a fellow of seven chartered bodies and secured first place prizes in the final examinations of three professions. He can be contacted at His latest books are available from

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