News & blog

James Timpson and repairing the NHS

Brendan Martin

Judging by my social media feed, I am one of many whose abiding image of 5 July 2024 will be the warmly smiling face of James Timpson in the government announcement of his appointment as Minister of State for Prisons, Parole and Probation.

As chair of the Prison Reform Trust and a CEO who makes a point of offering employment opportunities to ex-offenders in the family-owned shoe repair and key cutting business, the soon-to-be peer certainly has expertise in his brief.

But I hope his influence in government will extend also to Labour’s approach to investing in the much-needed renewal of our public services, where something like the Timpson Group’s management philosophy is much needed.

Based on trust, but by no means blindly, the Upside Down Management[i] approach his father Sir John Timpson developed before his son replaced him as CEO has proved itself in terms of that triple dividend of great service, happy staff and sound finances.

It has been one of the influences on the Humanity at the Heart learning and development programme now available from Public World, about which you can learn more in our online workshop[ii] on Wednesday, 10 July, at 9.30.

You will hear how Newtide Homes, a social housing provider in the east of England, has improved services to tenants and reduced rent arrears by enabling and supporting staff to work with greater freedom and responsibility.[iii]

The approach has proved its worth in some health and care organisations too, so maybe Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Wes Streeting can grab a coffee with James Timpson some day soon in the Palace of Westminster and find out more.

We were delighted to welcome Sir John Timpson as a speaker at our Caring Places festival three years ago, when he explained the simple principles behind Upside Down Management and we explored how they could benefit health and care services.

As Sir John writes in one of his excellent books, Keys to Success[iv]:

“I got a little hint of the culture that exists in some parts of the NHS when I met a management consultant who had been asked to study a number of hospital trusts.

“‘I had a big problem,’ he told me, ‘the one that performed best against the NHS targets came bottom of the pile when it came to having happy and satisfied patients.’”

Wes Streeting began his Cabinet role with a declaration that his department’s policy will henceforth be based on acceptance that the NHS is ‘broken’.

The people who can repair it are not management consultants but health and care professionals. But their ability to do so demands building a culture of trust in their capability, commitment and knowledge.

If that idea worries you – after all, the stakes are rather higher in health and care than in shoe repairs – you might be assuming that building a culture of trust involves turning a blind eye to poor performance.

In fact, the opposite is true: trust can be built only on transparency and accountability, and acceptance that those who cannot thrive in such an environment should be supported to, as Sir John puts it, “find their happiness elsewhere”.