Larger time scales of public sector projects and their life cycles implies larger budgets which is not the case given the current socioeconomic climate. Unlike parts of the private sector, the public sector has to answer to taxpayers. A road can be ‘maintained’ forever, in theory. Is asking the question ‘is there a need for a road there?’ an innovative approach to solving the problem of fixing potholes and traffic lights forever? It may make more sense to convert the road into a pedestrian street if the cost-benefit analysis is confirms it.
The question of maintenance VS innovation in the public sector can be distilled to a question of long-term vs short-term benefit. Innovation in the public sector is better serving the public. Assuming any public sector idea could be executed into reality the measure of value it would create in its lifetime is as difficult to calculate as its cost throughout its lifecycle. Timetables for innovation in the public sector are also affected by succession of power when officials, often with opposing ideals, are elected to new posts. The purpose of any public sector is to serve society and deliver ideas that, when brought to reality, create value for the public. Innovation in any sector has a higher risk of failure but greater benefits if successful. Opting for expenditure on maintenance in the public sector is undoubtedly a more safe, short term, investment but more safe is not always what is best for the public and consumers.
In this sense innovation is no more the ‘enemy of maintenance’ than the long-term is the enemy of the short-run. Innovation aimed only at the short run is a novelty rather than true innovation. Likewise maintenance, by definition, maintains an ongoing and established process or solution. Novelty proposals are used in politics as a marketing tactic or PR stunt. The two should never be viewed as competing forces in a well balanced government.