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In recent years, the UK Government (and the Treasury in particular), has adopted efficiency as its public spending North Star. The pursuit of efficiency is certainly desirable and it can hardly be said that our public services embody efficiency. However, viewing efficiency as the sole guiding principle for public spending can undermine resilience. Even in good times, this is bad for delivery, but it can have catastrophic consequences when things go wrong.

In January 2023, Nigel Ball and Loic Menzies, the authors of the report, convened a roundtable at the Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford, to explore how a better balance can be struck between efficiency and resilience.

By summarising the discussions from the roundtable, and setting out a number of ideas that emerged from it, the authors hope to contribute to the discussion regarding how policy can shift towards prevention and resilience. The authors do not intend to imply that all these ideas are necessarily viable or advisable in their current form, but they hope that they might provide avenues that lead to the solutions our system so urgently needs.

The authors organised the discussions, and have organised this write-up, around four themes which correspond to four parts of the governance system, as shown in the figure below.

Efficiency and resilience picture