The UK Coalition Government’s first official document (White Paper) on Public Services this week apparently got no publicity – the media was distracted by the phone hacking scandal. That’s a pity – not just because it’s a well-written document which clearly sets out mainstream thinking in England (the Scots would not go along with some of the themes eg choice) but also because the centrality given to the issue of equal opportunity is not what you would expect to find from a Conservative government -
But while we all have a shared interest in the best possible public services, we know that the poorer we – or our neighbours – are, the more we rely on the state and its agencies. Those who live in our most disadvantaged communities rely most critically on the NHS and need most urgently to see public health improve. Our poorest children depend most powerfully on high-quality childcare, good pre-school provision and excellent teaching to flourish in later life. Those in our most economically impoverished neighbourhoods rely most on decent provision of sporting facilities, parks and greenery close at hand to lead fuller lives.Although there are few references to the frenetic reform agenda of New Labour – starting from the 1997 Modernisation Programme and culminating in a self-congratulatory overview by the Strategy Unit of its work in 2009 – there is little with which Labour (at least in its later phases) could disagree. But what is most annoying is that the opportunity is missed for a really serious consideration of why – despite the apparent political commitment since 1997 to equal opportunity and a range of reasonably funded programmes – no real progress has been made on that front. What are the lessons for any new strategy? That’s the whole point about strategies – identifying the factors and forces which have undermined good intentions in the past and developing a “theory of action” and programme which gives us confidence that things might actually change for the betterOne comment makes the point well
And at the moment they are often let down.
So reform of public services is a key progressive cause. The better our public services, the more we are helping those most in need. That is why those who resist reform, put the producer interest before the citizens’ needs, and object to publishing information about how services perform are conspiring to keep our society less free, less fair and less united.
Throughout this paper, we will explain just how our reforms give power to those who have been overlooked and underserved. We will also demonstrate that it is only by publishing data on how public services do their jobs that we can wrest power out of the hands of highly paid officials and give it back to the people. And our reforms will mean that the poorest will be at the front of the queue.
The white paper places much emphasis on consultation and facilitating change rather than directing. A weakness is that many proposals are projects or programmes and should be subject to the established public sector controls such as "starting gate" and "gateway". These are not bureaucratic, help identify what should not go ahead, whether the necessary success factors are in place at each stage of the project and whether there need to be changes. These robust approaches save time and money and greatly increase chances of success. The white paper should have provided assurance about applying these disciplines.A couple of other useful commentaries - first on the realism of the document's reliance on "choice" and "community"; and, second, on the encouragement of social enterprise and "mutualities"are here -
And I've discovered another nice painting blog