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Thursday 29th March 2012 | 11:09
The right to choose the best public service at the heart of radical reform programme
Increasing parental choice in schools, extending personal budgets so people can choose how they spend money on services and increasing the transparency of public service performance and user satisfaction are all part of the next steps to improve public services by opening them up, as set out in an update paper from the Government today.
The paper sets out the huge amount that has been achieved in the eight months since the publication of the Open Public Service (OPS) White Paper in summer 2011 – the creation of free schools and expansion of academies, and the radical reform of the welfare system and the introduction of the Payment by Results Work Programme – and more importantly focuses on the next stages, emphasising the importance of ensuring the quality of public services continues to improve whilst meeting the Government’s tough targets on financial spending.
Launching the paper the Prime Minister David Cameron said:
“Nearly two years on from coming into office, brick by brick, edifice by edifice, we are slowly dismantling the big-state structures we inherited from the last government. We are putting people in control, giving them the choices and chances that they get in almost every other area of life. There is still a way to go and this kind of change will not happen overnight. But no one should doubt my determination to make our public services better, by opening them up. I will not rest until the job is done.”
Open public services can only happen when citizens have a genuine right to choose, which is why as part of the next steps, today’s paper sets out how a right to choose could be enshrined in law and asks for peoples’ views on the impact that might have and what such legislation might look like. It is also why the government is launching an independent review to establish how choice can be extended fairly to the most disadvantaged in our society. Because public services aren’t open unless they are truly open to all.
Minister for Government Policy Oliver Letwin said:
“The one size fits all provision of the past, where people got what they were given unless they were wealthy enough to opt out is consigned to history. In a mature democracy such as ours, people must be given the right to choose the services they want and who to provide them. They should have open access to information so they can make informed decisions and be able to take control of their own lives.
We are making massive strides in education, welfare, health and localism through the principle of taking power away from the entrenched elites and giving it back to individuals and communities to make the decisions for themselves.”
Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander said:
“Thanks to the hard work of our public servants, we have some of the best public services in the world. But for too many people, the services they receive fail to meet the mark and that’s not acceptable. We want everyone to have the choice and the freedom to access the services which are right for them and their families. Our independent review is about dealing with the barriers that get in the way of people exercising these choices now.
“Even when money is tight we need to do everything in our power to make sure all our services are the best they can be. We need to make sure open public services are properly available, and through their funding models are focused particularly on the most disadvantaged”
The paper sets out action the government has already taken across a whole range of public services including education, welfare, health and local government, as well as the opening up of data and greater transparency, and the transformation of digital services, which are allowing people to assess the government and public services as never before. In education for example there are now 1635 Academies open in England (1298 converters, 337 sponsored).
It also explains how government is fostering the establishment of ‘Choice Champions’ who will promote choice in public services and provide independent scrutiny and challenge to providers and commissioners. In addition, we hope that Choice Champions will support citizens – particularly the vulnerable and disadvantaged – in making effective choices in public services. We will develop plans to raise awareness amongst citizens of the choices available in each service.
Over the coming months more work will be done to transform service delivery through our ‘digital by default’ approach. This will make services simpler, more easily accessible for citizens and businesses; and Focussed around the needs of the citizen.
The paper also sets out how the Government is developing and implementing Rights to Provide which will empower front line staff across the public sector to take over the services they deliver. The Government has identified local authorities’ services, fire services, probation and adult social care as some of the areas for developing new mutuals. This is backed by enhanced support available to staff through the Mutuals Information Service and the Mutuals Support Programme.
The Government will continue to publish regular updates on progress across all areas of public service reform.