There is a promise to please just about every public sector manager in Britain in the Conservative Party’s pre-manifesto – but there is also a challenge for sharp justification of every penny spent publicly rather than by the private sector. The Tories have offered up their own version of Modernising Government, which will now be voted on by all party members.The main message is that of freeing public sector managers from political interference and bureaucracy, with a promise to cut down on everything from Ministers to quangos. There are some new twists on now familiar ideas – such as joint working – with a single Minister charged to co-ordinate all regeneration activity and work across departmental boundaries.
In the NHS, the Secretary of State’s role would be to set a strategic framework of health policy, agree funding and guarantee minimum standards of quality. Clinical judgements would be left for clinicians.
LEAs would be abolished and local councils play a reduced role in supporting schools, all of which would devolve to Heads and Governors the complete responsibility for managing their schools. Each school would be able to set its own admissions, discipline, uniforms and pay policies. Schools would receive their funding directly through a per-pupil fee. There is a big promise to struggling universities, with the promise of progressive endowments so they become less dependent on government funding, using receipts from for example, auctions of radio spectrum, future privatisation proceeds and asset sales.
There is a promise not to cap local council budgets and to establish a stronger link between the money raised by local councils and the money they spend. ‘Free councils’, a development of the beacon idea, would be given much greater freedom from central government intervention and regulation by being able to demonstrate high levels of local democratic participation and financial efficiency. The Regional Development Agencies and their assemblies would be scrapped, with responsibility for enterprise and development back to local government.