Magazine article Public Finance

Minding His Own Business

Magazine article Public Finance

Minding His Own Business

Article excerpt

ONE OF THE most striking things about 42-year-old Adrian Ringrose, the new chair of the CBI's public services strategy board, is his relative youth. In 2003, he became chief executive of construction and facilities management group Interserve at the age of just 36.

At the time, it was said he was the youngest chief executive of any FTSE 100 company (although he never verified the fact). 'It was quite daunting going into a job aged 36 when most people last about five years,' he jokes.

'Looking back on it I don't think age has a great deal to do with it. If you have the right people around you and you get the balance right between listening to people who've got a bit more experience and knowing when to make your own mind up and do something - that's more a state of mind than anything to do with how much rust you've got on you.'

As if his lightning-quick climb up the corporate ladder wasn't enough, Ringrose assumed an extra dimension of responsibility in July this year when he took the role at the CBI, following in the footsteps of Serco's Kevin Beeston and Capita's Rod Aldridge. The board has a formidable array of public service industry leaders, but its mission, says Ringrose, is about more than simply furthering private sector interests.

The CBI itself has high hopes for Ringrose. Susan Anderson, the director of public services & skills, says: 'Adrian's commitment to delivering high quality value-for-moncy public services is second to none. He is a firm believer in the power of choice and competition to drive better outcomes. His insight and experience are going to be essential if we are going re-engineer public services to reduce costs, while maintaining the quality of services.'

What the CBI wants is an acceleration in the use of the market in public services. Ringrose, sitting in his surprisingly low-key office at Interserve's London headquarters in Waterloo, explains: 'We're not just promoting the cause of the outsourcers, we're not just promoting the cause of the private sector, we're saying that the most effective way of improving quality and managing cost is to introduce choice. It's about markets, not about which providers within a market should win out.'

He acknowledges that there is some good practice in the public sector, but sees its expertise more in the realm of policy development and commissioning, not delivery. 'It's in implementation where the introduction of choice and competition would have the greatest effect,' he explains.

'Monopolies tend to be slow to innovate and fairly unresponsive because they don't have to be. There isn't an alternative for the customer, therefore that natural imperative to improve and to question what is adding value and is what is being offered any good. Is it what the customer wants to buy and is it any good?'

The CBI's message isn't 'private sector good, public sector bad', Ringrose insists - it's that choice is good and lack of choice is bad. Public, private and third sector providers should all be in the competition mix.

He does, however, admit that the hearts and minds of some of those in the public sphere do need to be won, but even here he's optimistic. A major step forward, in Ringrose's view, has been the acknowledgement by all major political parties that public service provision needs to be reformed. …

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