Problems of public service failure are high on the political agenda in the UK, and many national and local organizations are searching for effective turnaround strategies. Although little research on turnaround in the public sector has been undertaken, there is a substantial number of studies of decline and recovery in private firms. Evidence from these studies suggests that turnaround is more likely in companies that pursue retrenchment, repositioning and reorganization. The relevance of this '3Rs' strategy to the public sector is analysed, and the potential consequences for public service improvement are evaluated. This article will help managers to think more clearly about turnaround strategies that could work in their organizations.