Newcastle University Business School

Event Item

Standardised services are expensive, wrong and ineffective: The Future is bespoke

Date/Time: Thursday 11 January, 17:30

Venue: Partners' Room 8.10, Newcastle University Business School

Speaker: Mark Smith, Director of Public Service Reform at Gateshead Metropolitan Borough Council.

Mark will challenge the commonly held belief that standardised services are cheap and effective. He will explore the idea that tailoring every response to the particular problem a citizen has is cheaper, more effective and inherently fairer than any form of standard public service.  Defining things as 'services' immediately limits their usefulness. Services typically become defined by their business plans and the inevitable pressure on their budgets becomes a route to reductionism, standardisation, assessment and eligibility.  The focus becomes running 'services' rather than solving problems. This makes things no better and sometimes worse for those for whom ‘services’ are intended and it wastes colossal amounts of money on ineffective 'solutions' or a 'come back when you're worse' mentality of triage.  

Mark will instead talk about how systematically adopting a problem solving mind-set, culture and structure leads to life-enhancing relationships between people and organisations.  This means leaders need to rethink what they mean by leading and their concepts of control.  Problem solving provides a chance for the creation of ecosystems that are innate, rather than services that are inert. 


Mark Smith (@MarkAdamSmith) is an experienced consultant and interventionist, having worked for Vanguard Consulting as well as independently.  He is also an experienced leader in local government, having previously led a ‘Transformation and OD Service’ (hint: you don’t need one of these), Customer Services, Communications and Research and Intelligence.  He has recently returned to the sector after almost 10 years away.  He has worked with leaders and practitioners to transform thinking and systems across health (primary, secondary and tertiary care), social services, retail, logistics, policing, learning disability support, planning and housing.  His recent work includes setting up and leading a holistic approach to digital services, integrating health and social care systems, public protection in policing and, most interestingly (and gruesomely at times) transforming police forensics. 

Mark is currently working as Director for Public Service Reform at Gateshead Council.  His initial task is to render his job title obsolete before ultimately designing himself out of his organisation.

When he’s not doing this, Mark can be found either fellrunning up and down mountains or showing off on his guitar to his disinterested daughters.