When you get to the top three of any countdown you feel you’re getting close to the best, whether you’re thinking in terms of first, second, third or gold, silver, bronze.

I’d certainly give John Spedan Lewis at least a bronze medal in my Hall of Fame of lesser known heroes of improvement.

Other people also want to know about him, searching for his qualitiesquotes by him, and what sort of a leader he was and then clicking through to this blog to see what we say about him.

As a name, Spedan’s a bit obscure.  It doesn’t feature in the list of message boards for thousands of surnames on one of the world’s largest genealogy web sites.

But for the British reader the John Lewis bit is a dead giveaway.  He was of course the founder of the John Lewis Partnership, owner of the eponymous department stores and the up-market Waitrose supermarket chain.

I didn’t write it in my original post on John Spedan Lewis but there is a very contemporary connection between the department store chain and UK local government.

One of the more positive aspects of councils’ reaction to the dramatic budget cuts they are being subjected to is a creative search for new ways to deliver services (nothing like a good crisis to enable change).

Back in 2010 two London boroughs received a lot of publicity for alternative models of service delivery they were espousing – Barnet for their adoption of an Easyjet model, and Lambeth for aspiring to be a John Lewis council.  I guess the simple way to characterise the two approaches would be

  • Easyjet – as a resident you get a basic service and can then choose to add on extras if you want something better (some of course would say “if you can afford it”)
  • John Lewis – delivery of services by an organisation, not necessarily the council itself,  in some way held in trust for the employees (an added advantage for a “John Lewis council” of the branding is of course the implication of excellent service)

You can read and hear more about the two approaches, at least as they were in the run up to the 2010 council elections, on the BBC web site.

I don’t know if councillors and managers in Lambeth seriously studied some of the things John Spedan Lewis said.  But it would certainly be worth their while to do so.

Tomorrow, onward and upward to the No. 2 spot on this Top 10 web search countdown – something very different but also involving councils.