We all anticipate, in the wake of the credit crunch and its impact on public finances, that our public services will be asked to do more with (much) less. At the same time, we recognise that we can't delay concerted responses to major social challenges such as an ageing society and a rise in long-term health conditions. The collective scale of these challenges, as noted in the first discussion paper from the Lab, is almost too large to comprehend.
One especially pernicious implication of the recession is to increase the scale of these challenges - for example, the erosion of retirement incomes or the effects of losing a job on health and wellbeing - while at the same time stripping away the resources available to the public sector, charities and social enterprises to respond to these increasing needs.
But this also clarifies the choice before us. Eking out small efficiencies from our public services won't fix public finances, let alone establish services on the new foundations that ensure they are ready for the future. In this way - without wishing to sound naïve about the difficulties involved - we are forced to confront the need for bold new approaches in our public services.
More fundamentally, as argued in the discussion paper, it also means we need a new way of innovating in our public services - one that in particular puts users, consumers and citizens at the heart of public services as never before, as a force for change and as partners in delivery. The next few months will begin to reveal which kind of future we are building.