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In Conversation with - Alan Leaman OBE

As the Lib Dem Party Conference draws to a close, we are taking a moment to reflect on our podcast with Alan Leaman OBE last week.

Alan is the former Lib Dem Director of Strategy speechwriter to Paddy Ashdown, was the CEO of the industry association for management consultancies (The MCA) from 2008 until 2019 and was awarded the OBE for political and public service.

In Conversation with - Alan Leaman OBE

Alan is a true wordsmith, as you would expect from a professional speechwriter to Paddy Ashdown. Antonio Weiss (Senior Partner) and Smriti Singh (Associate Partner) of The PSC take the opportunity to engage him in Governing in the 21st Century and how we can grow the UK’s economy. Head to the podcast to hear directly from Antonio, Smriti and Alan or read our summary below! 


What do Public Services Mean

The discussion begins with public services and what they mean to Alan, he shares some Liberal Democrat history around a welfare based state crafted by William Beveridge and Liberalism theory and transformation. Alan reflects on his current position as councillor within Sevenoaks where they refer to local residents as customers. And goes on to share insights during his time as Paddy Ashdown’s speech writer. Paddy was passionate about citizens being the answer to progressive politics as detailed in his book. 


Public Spending

The conversation works its way towards how we can fuel the economy, how our labour productivity is flatlining and a healthy workforce means better healthcare and promotion of that care. Everyone reflects on Shirley Williams and Alan shares her insistence on; spending on healthcare being the key to economic success.  


Unfortunately, as summarised by Alan; the perception of spending money on our public services is portrayed as a nice to have and politicians respond to public mood. In a time of national crisis (the pandemic) our Key Workers were applauded and heralded (rightly so) but that passion has waned which makes spending on healthcare and public services unsexy. 


Citizen Centric

The conversation moves towards citizens and how other proactive states such as Denmark and Singapore focus more on individual empowerment. Alan shares his view on this as recovery over reform. How do our public services recover from the battering they have taken, under resourcing and firefighting they are currently experiencing. Martha’s law is discussed


The question comes back to how much of being a speech writer is about what to say when. Alan reflects on his time working with Paddy Ashdown and how groundbreaking his approach was. He was passionate about resonating with the audience which made him really open to how they could do that. 


Liberal Democrats

Antonio shares a current article by The Times leading with the Lib Dems looking like Kingmakers…The discussion then heads to the Liberal Democrats manifesto which Alan shares one pledge: “Every citizen will have the right to see a GP within 7 days” and in his experience, this would be a great opportunity to lead with. There is a limited opportunity to capture the imagination of the public and as Alan says, that is difficult for the Liberal Democrats to stay disciplined with. He then goes on to quote: “You camp in poetry and govern in prose” which he feels really speaks to the times we are in. Alan goes on to quote a recent social attitudes survey. 


Alan describes Brexit as ‘a slow puncture in our economy and morale’ which has had, as we would expect, an impact on public services. The immediate being the labour market, the biggest priority tackling freedom of movement. He also highlights, the country needs hope and something to look forward to. 


Public Service & Consultants 

With Alan’s experience in the consulting industry, Antonio asks what impact consultants can and should have on public service reform and if there are any lessons to be learned from. Alan speaks to the free flow thinking, ideas and experience consultants have to offer in this area - especially organisational design. But he feels the most gain is to be had on innovative work - digital and technological opportunities as well as how they can enhance the relationship with citizens. Meeting, managing and anticipating demand and needs are met by the right public services, for example; A&E’s role within healthcare. With the opportunity data represents to drive service design. What Alan isn’t so keen on is consultancies using their influence over ministers. 


The session comes to a close with an observation from Alan; the upcoming election is a lot like 1997, a long period of conservative government except, our public services are in decline. It is an opportunity for Labour and Lib Dem. Newer and better things feel less possible and the post election work is where the focus should be.  


We are encouraged by Alan to research Ed Davey’s personal story, which Ed openly shared at the Liberal Democrats Party Conference on Thursday 26th September. Ed shared his personal experience with cancer, with both of his parents dying from cancer when he was young. Ed used his personal experiences to advocate for cancer becoming a key priority for the next Parliament, highlighting both the challenges of long NHS waiting lists for cancer, and the importance of investing in cancer research.


More generally, Ed outlined in his speech that “health and care are both key parts of our plan for the economy”. “The crisis in the NHS is inextricably linked to the crisis in care,” he said, and if you fix care, “you fix the NHS”. However, despite these challenges, Ed emphasises the importance of hope and the fact that there is truly a way to solve these problems. This links back directly to Alan’s comments - the next election offers a distinct opportunity for the opposition parties to focus on public services. 


If you’ve found this article interesting, head to the podcast to hear directly from Antonio, Smriti and Alan! 

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