Innovation 2023 five minutes with… Paul Morrison of the UK Department for Levelling up, Housing and Communities

By on 02/04/2023 | Updated on 02/04/2023

In this sister series to our ‘Five minutes with’ interviews, we share insights from the civil and public service leaders who spoke at our Innovation conference. The event took place in London on 21 March 2023, and welcomed 1,000 public servants from 50 countries – and more watching live online – to hear about how their peers are developing new approaches to policymaking and service delivery.

In this interview, Paul Morrison, chief executive, planning inspectorate at the UK Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities – who joined the conference session on innovation in policymaking – tells GGF about taking a relational approach to public service delivery, his pride in helping to resettle Syrian and Ukrainian refugees, and why he thinks Treasure Island is the greatest book ever written.

You will be able to watch all Innovation 2023 sessions – on topics including digital transformation, data, skills, inclusion, cyber security, future of work, leadership, and procurement – on the Innovation website soon.  

What were you most interested in discussing at Innovation 2023?

The case for why governments need to innovate is clear – an increasingly interconnected world facing challenges of ever greater complexity. What we need to do is well-rehearsed, including digital and data innovation, services designed around the needs of users and working across sectoral boundaries by taking a more relational approach to public service delivery. At times these concepts can end up being a little abstract. But there are lots of examples out there of how we can do it and I was really looking forward to meeting colleagues from all different governments to hear their stories and learn from their successes.

What have you achieved in your career that you are most proud of? 

It has been my privilege to work on two programmes to relocate refugees displaced by war. The Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement scheme which from 2015 onwards relocated 23,000 people including many hosted by communities under a community sponsorship scheme. Then more recently I worked on the Ukrainian refugee crisis which has seen 160,000 Ukrainians hosted by members of the public across the UK and supported by partners in public service, private companies, educational institutions, charities and community groups. These are among the largest government run programmes to bring vulnerable individuals to the UK for humanitarian reasons and represent a truly whole-of-society approach.

What do you like most about working in the civil service? 

I love the opportunity it affords to work with colleagues and partners across the public, private and community sectors to deliver for the public and meet the most profound challenges.

And what do you dislike about it? 

Too often the successes I have seen, of partners working across boundaries, has happened despite rather than because of the bureaucratic systems we operate.

If you could introduce one civil service reform, what would it be?  

I would like us to overhaul the way we measure and reward success so there is a far greater value placed on the strength and quality of connection that civil servants create across society to achieve shared outcomes and not just the delivery of transactional targets or individual departmental goals.

Read more: Innovation 2023 as it happened

Which country’s civil service or which government department or agency are you most inspired by and why? 

I have loved working with colleagues across governments in all continents. Because our partners in countries like Canada, New Zealand and Australia were born from the same Whitehall system of government, I find it particularly fascinating to see how the different countries have evolved our shared system and come up with innovations and solutions that really stretch my view of what is possible in the UK.

Can you name one lesson or idea from abroad that has helped you and your colleagues?  

Building on my answers about delivering a whole-of-society approach and learning from Whitehall systems, I can happily say we stole with pride the model of community sponsorship of refugees from our Canadian colleagues. They have been delivering this for decades and I spent much time in Ottawa, Toronto and surrounding areas being inspired by what they had achieved. The big lesson I learned was the value of this whole-of-society approach to public service which crowds in innovation by the state, market and communities. Of course, that primarily benefitted the vulnerable people the programmes served, but it also created the benefit of that real sense of community and connection which I think is so critical to the health of a country.

What attributes do you most value in people? 

Being trusting and trustworthiness. I have a very strong faith in human nature. That it is essentially good and we should build on that asset rather than only building services based on the worst of humanity. I invest trust in others and value their trust in me and my experience.

What is your favourite book?  

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson is without question the greatest book ever written. I have re-read it to my children and been transported back to the island, on the edge of my seat as I will Jim Hawkins to escape the clutches of the pirates. I hope one day to be taken back there when I get the chance to transport future grandchildren and me to that world.

What was your first car?  

A manure brown Citroen Visa which barely cranked up to 70mph on the motorway, and when it did had a nasty habit of brake failure just at the moment it had reached its mediocre top speed. As well as my first car it was nearly my last. I do not miss it.

Read more: UK chief operating officer tackles the constraints on innovation in government

More from this series: 
Megan Lee Devlin, UK Central Digital and Data Office chief executive
Ann Dunkin, US Department of Energy CIO
Peter Pogačar, director general of Slovenia’s Ministry of Public Administration
Yvan Gauthier of Canada’s Artificial Intelligence Accelerator
Laura Gilbert, 10 Downing Street chief analyst
Martin Ledolter, Austria’s Federal Procurement Agency managing director
Sana Khareghani, former head of the UK Office for AI
Kristiina Kivirand of Estonia’s stockpiling agency
Christine Bellamy, director of publishing, GOV.UK, Government Digital Service

Want to write for GGF? We are always looking to hear from public and civil servants on the latest developments in their organisation – please get in touch below or email [email protected]

About Mia Hunt

Mia is a journalist and editor with a background in covering commercial property, having been market reports and supplements editor at trade title Property Week and deputy editor of Shopping Centre magazine, now known as Retail Destination. She has also undertaken freelance work for several publications including the preview magazine of international trade show, MAPIC, and TES Global (formerly the Times Educational Supplement) and has produced a white paper on energy efficiency in business for E.ON. Between 2014 and 2016, she was a member of the Revo Customer Experience Committee and an ACE Awards judge. Mia graduated from Kingston University with a first-class degree in journalism and was part of the team that produced The River newspaper, which won Publication of the Year at the Guardian Student Media Awards in 2010.

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