Today I received an email asking me to come up with ways the public sector and in my case, the police, can do more for less.
I have been employed in the public sector all my working life - 25 years in total. I have another 25 years to go (probably 30 by the time they have finished with the pension reforms). During that time I have submitted many ideas to our 'suggestion scheme'. One thing I have learned over that time is that the more innovative and ground-breaking the suggestion you make, the more likely it is to fall at the first hurdle. If your idea is 'safe' you will probably win a modest sum. By 'safe' I mean something that doesn't upset the status quo, doesn't put anybody's nose out of joint and doesn't require any imagination, innovative thinking or risk.
Here is an example of one of my more 'radical' concepts which I submitted to our suggestion scheme around 1994/95. I worked in a video production unit then and we were trying to think of new ways to distribute video to the workforce instead of VHS tape. Computers had landed on our desktops (no networks then) and I thought how great it would be if we could give everyone a computer, connect them all up on a network and share the video alongside text and photos. In essence I was talking about an Intranet without knowing it at the time. We have an Intranet now; its not very good and still cannot handle video. At the time of my suggestion, I was told that the cost of giving everyone a PC would be too high and that the concept would not be practical - any network was for 'IT data' not to share information and videos. What i was meant to suggest was a different coloured noticeboard for posters to be pinned onto. That would have been easy to understand, it wouldn't have threatened anyone and it would be easy to put in place.
So the Intranet came anyway despite my suggestion.
So the big question is this. Does David Cameron and Nick Clegg want me to tell them what a great move it would be to standardise the colour of government paper clips so they can be ordered centrally or do they want ideas that will actually make a difference?
If they receive big ideas from the public sector folk, are they big enough to see the big picture? Maybe we'll just get those pink paperclips instead.