Friday, 27 July 2012

In public service, does size matter?

Steve Saunders from PwC sets delegates straight: growth is all about competitiveness   

At the University of Northampton, public sector spin-out platform, the Transition Institute, announced today that the university was to become a strategic partner for the Institute. Also, Professor Simon Denny, the man charged with enabling Northampton to become the UK’s first social enterprise university, is to join the Institute's board. 

Speaking on behalf of the Institute, its Chair, Allison Ogden-Newton, said, “We are delighted to welcome the creative input of Northampton, which is fast establishing itself as at the forefront of social enterprise development. Its energy and expertise will be a fantastic addition and helps us take the debate on the future of public services up a gear.”

Simon told the audience, "If the level of debate and contribution at today’s event was anything to go by, the university's decision to become a partner of the Institute is one it is unlikely to ever regret.”

This announcement came at the latest Transition Institute Camp on scaling up, where those who want to spin out services or want to bid for new service contracts can learn from the market leaders and industry experts, and share their experience and questions adding to developing research.

Steve Saunders, Director of PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), sparked a lively debate about preparing to thrive in an increasingly competitive market. He charged participants to think about why they think the service they provide is different, what they want to be remembered for and to really scrutinise where the market for that is.

Paul Jansen, consultant at Stepping Out, the specialist service for spin-outs, described this sector as a market that is in its infancy. He compared spin-outs to the motor industry in the 1930s where there was excitement for the novelty for a revolutionary form of transport, but where efficiency and speed had not yet been achieved. Paul made the point that we need to recognise the innovation sparked through independent service providers and told his audience about social enterprise, the National Migraine Centre which is a world leader in headache services that has developed therapies and treatments previously unheard of in the NHS. In that sense the services available at the centre are not spun out, but have achieved unique complementary status so common in social enterprise where innovation can be easier to develop than in the mainstream.

Owen Wilcox from TTP Law
Owen Wilcox, a partner at TTP Law, filled delegates in on the legal dos and don’ts of going it alone and illustrated his points with apocryphal tales of social enterprises that have failed, such as Secure Healthcare, which closed after only three years because it did not anticipate the potential impact of its contractual obligations and started with an inappropriate corporate structure. Owen took delegates through the treacherous waters of TUPE and asset transfer and pointed them to early adopters looking at the secrets to their success.

Working with Sabina Khan, advisor to the Institute, delegates discussed and analysed the Institute's latest research Scaling up your business: expansion models for spin-outs, written by Dan Gregory. The enthusiasm of delegates derived some insightful observations that came from their considerable experience in the field.

Delegate Richard Catherall of Katarsis Ventures contributed to the debate by making the point that outsourcing authorities often go for scale thereby missing vital potential. “Local authorities like large things sometimes simply because they are big, which doesn’t acknowledge that an opportunity of spin-outs are to spin services apart. The focus is often around the spin-out and in actual fact it’s an opportunity for the parent body to change. It’s not just about the egg, it's about the chicken … which came first incidentally."

All of the comments made at the event were captured and will be reflected in the final version of the research available on line at the Transition Institute.


  1. SlartibartfastMonday, 30 July, 2012

    I bet Stephen Bubb has no idea that Northampton even has a University...

  2. Well if he didn't he does now as he is on the Board of the Transition Institute.

  3. Well, in that case I look forward to dear Stephen extolling its virtues in the weeks to come. I suppose that Northampton is quite near Oxford...

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