PM unveils public services plan

 Danny Alexander: “The idea that the man in Whitehall knows best… is very old-fashioned”

David Cameron has vowed to “put people in charge” as he unveiled his plan for public services in England.


In a speech in London, the prime minister said public services were the “backbone” of the country but too often their results were not good enough.


Planned changes would give people “more freedom, more choice and more local control” in schools, health and other services, Mr Cameron said.


Labour says the government is overemphasising the role of the market.


The government wants to allow companies, charities and community groups to bid to run everything from local health services to schools, libraries and parks.


But business leaders have accused Mr Cameron of moving too slowly on the changes – which are central to his vision of the Big Society – in the face of union and Liberal Democrat pressure

‘Old dogma’

The Public Services White Paper had been due to be unveiled in January but has been held up by Whitehall wrangling over its contents.

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When he talks of fairness he means new opportunities for the sharp-elbowed middle classes to push others aside”

End Quote Brendan Barber TUC General Secretary The proposals would allow service providers to make profits in some areas like getting people off benefits and into work, but not in others such as health care.


Only two areas – national security and the judiciary – will be exempt.


Unveiling the proposed legislation in a speech in East London on Monday afternoon, Mr Cameron said it was about “ending the old big-government, top-down way of running public services, releasing the grip of state control and putting power in people’s hands”.


He added: “The old dogma that said Whitehall knows best – it’s gone. There will be more freedom, more choice and more local control. Ours is a vision of open public services.”


The Labour Party says the government has lost its way on public service reform and is overemphasising the role of the market.

‘Lost its way’

And the trade unions accused Mr Cameron of attempting to break-up public services “while all attention is focused on the misdeeds of News International”.

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The presumption that services should always be run by the public sector died a generation ago in local government”

End Quote Simon Parker New Local Government Network TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: “Of course they are skilfully wrapped up in warm words, but when the prime minister talks of charities and voluntary groups, he means parcelling up public services for private companies.


“When he talks of ending top-down control, he really means introducing a postcode lottery with few winning tickets; and when he talks of fairness he means new opportunities for the sharp-elbowed middle classes to push others aside.”


But business leaders have accused Mr Cameron of backing down in the face of Lib Dem and union opposition.


CBI deputy director general Neil Bentley said in a speech last week that planned radical reform of public services had been derailed by “forces of inertia”.


He said the coalition gave the impression of “having lost its way, uneasy about reforms and unsure about how to present them”.

‘Hold nerve’

But one think tank said ministers were right to give local communities the power to determine how services were run in their area and this should extend across a wide range of central government functions such as job centres and parts of the criminal justice system.


“The presumption that services should always be run by the public sector died a generation ago in local government,” said Simon Parker, from the New Local Government Network.


“More than half of all highways, housing, environmental and social services are already outsourced and the proportion is likely to rise as cuts bite.


“The government’s had a rocky time of late with NHS reforms and the hacking scandal but ministers need to hold their nerve on public sector reform.”


Leaked documents earlier this year suggested ministers were scaling back the role of the private sector in their plans amid concerns that the public would find widespread outsourcing of services “unpalatable”.


They indicated that private sector involvement would be limited to joint ventures with non-for-profit groups and the focus would be on greater input from charities, social enterprises and employee-owned mutual organisations.

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