Headlines: March 8th, 2002

Senior managers across the UK public sector will today receive a pamphlet from Prime Minister Tony Blair setting out the Government’s strategy for reform of public services. ‘Reforming our public services – Principles into practice’ has no news messages, but it does present a comprehensive picture of the reform process which managers in different areas will be able to relate to their own situation.At the center of the reform programme is the need to focus services on the customer. The pamphlet explains that customer-focused public service reform must be based on the principles of national standards, devolution to the front line which will bring greater trust, flexibility with greater rewards and greater choice for the customer.

The pamphlet presents national standards as the main device for driving up performance. Information about the wide variations between different organizations doing the same work in similar conditions is a powerful motivator. The value lies in the ability it gives to local communities to assess how well they are being served.

There is a promise of more devolution and delegation. National standards will be met by recognizing local differences and giving the service providers flexibility to shape services around the needs and aspirations of customers and communities. Innovation will be promoted by giving people at the local level incentives to find different ways of doing things.

The contentious section of the pamphlet deals with flexibilities and incentives. There is a recognition that moving towards more flexible systems of pay and working will not be unopposed. There is a commitment to safeguard existing public service staff, but no mention of the development of a two tier workforce where newly recruited staff working for a private company receive less favourable pay and conditions compared to colleagues transferred from a public organization. There is no indication about Government thinking on the outcome of the debate where the unions are arguing for worker protection and the CBI wants freedom for companies.

Reforming our public services – Principles into practice, can be downloaded from http://www.pm.gov.uk/filestore/00490_02_9201_P%20into%20P.pdf