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In Conversation with James Friend

Last week, Jonathan Chappell, Senior Partner at The PSC hosted a podcast with James Friend

James was former special advisor to Jeremy Hunt as Secretary of State for Health, he has also twice served as Leader of Mole Valley District Council and is currently Chair of Good Shepherd Trust a Multi-Academy Trust with 18 schools and is Director of Digital Strategy at NHS England – London Region.

In Conversation with James Friend

Jonathan kicks off this podcast with the opener: what do public services mean to you? James is resolute in his answer “they are about one thing and one thing only, being there when an individual or family needs you”. James’ response is full of a deep motivation to make a difference to citizens. He talks of empowerment to individuals, using their ‘talents’ to be the best version of themselves and viewing public services as a safety net. 


On the subject of reform, James reflects on three things: aligning capacity to demand, accessibility and citizen centric digitisation. 


We hear of the challenges that some of James’ local area has, birth rate in decline, in consistency in school population and he shares an analogy about a quench for a cup of tea on a Thursday afternoon - public services should be as accessible as flicking on the kettle. And finally why digitisation is the way forward.


James defines the most need for public services as when you are young and old this sparks his idea behind community based public services being in a single environment (GP surgery’s on school grounds for example). 


James believes this work requires bigger thinking, using the data at our fingertips to make informed, strategic and helpful solutions for communities. 


Jonathan brings the conversation around to if there is economic growth to be had by investing in public services…


James questions whether it is morally right to treat someone faster to improve GDP? He poses thought provoking questions around housing, quality of sleep and the impact of that on learning and well being. James’ experience of being a councillor allows him to share first hand stories of residents who needed help. 


James brings it back to finding the root cause, why aren’t children at school, why aren’t individuals performing at work - dissecting these issues will allow leaders to address the cause and make sustainable change.


Jonathan takes the opportunity to ask James about his opinion on low morale in public services and what we can do about it. James reflects on good leaders knowing what motivates their teams. He talks about incentives but not in monetary terms. James shares his process when he starts a new role: three questions:

  1. What gets you up in the morning? Or…when you get home at night, what makes you think you’ve had a good day. 

  2. What stops you having a good day?

  3. So what more do you want to add to the team?


James’ theory is all about empowerment and ensuring each individual is living to their utmost potential. 


James then comes on to talk about three dimensional healthcare: early release, creates value for the patient and the taxpayer. But there is also value to be gained for the staff…if you can create an intervention that speaks to all three then that is public service reform. 


The last point Jonathan and James discuss is the third sector and the value it can bring to public services. One of James’ hats is being a church warden of a Grade I listed building, he shares they get people coming to them, irrespective of faith because they don’t want to rely on the state. The support they get is in a coaching form, asking them what they want and showing them the road ahead. James reflects that this is much like letting people get on with their lives and do their own thing. 


During his final comments, James shares his personal hopes for the future:


Brave long term planning around infrastructure. What do we need today but in 50 years time too. How can we transform our highstreets? Do we look to combine residential and highstreet in a more hub bespoke feel? The same goes for hospitals and schools that we are building today, how can they meet the needs of the community in 100 years time? 


As the Conservative Party Conference comes to a close, Rishi Sunak’s speech talks of a bolder, braver future where the Conservative's are prepared to be "radical in the face of challenges". With a focus on HS2, a new British standard qualification system to replace A and T levels and a plan to tackle the 2million people of working age who cannot work. 

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