Headlines: February 11th, 2004

Education and health are the latest areas to receive more managerial freedom from the grip of Whitehall. Proposals to slim down school inspection and reduce targets in the NHS are the part of a strategic move from the old-style centralization and command and control approach towards a new localism. This strategic move comes because it is recognized that because of a combination of increasingly demanding consumers, information technologies, greater competition, a premium on skills and innovation, a wide-ranging media, and varying local needs, central control cannot deliver.Ofsted, the schools inspectorate, has issued a consultation paper which proposes shorter, sharper, inspections focused on helping schools improve while reducing the burden of inspection, and ensuring that parents benefit from more timely and relevant school reports. It is proposed that the frequency of inspection would be increased from six to three years so that parents can benefit from more up-to-date information. The inspections would be much shorter, possibly two or three days, the scope of the inspection will be reduced and it will be carried out by fewer inspectors. Inspection reports will be reduced from forty to four pages. The notification period ahead of inspection would be cut from weeks to days to limit the amount of unnecessary preparation that takes place at the moment.

For the health service it is proposed to replace targets with a set of ‘core standards’ which will be supported by ‘developmental’ standards. The ‘core standards’ will set the level of quality of care which every patient should expect, wherever they are treated in the NHS. For example: Patients must be able to access emergency care promptly and be provided with information on the care and treatment they receive. Developmental standards typically cover safety, clinical cost effectiveness, and governance. Consultation on the standards ends in May 2004

These developments follow a new localism announcement at the end of last year that greater freedom would be given to local councils to include in their local public service agreements, topics which are most important to their area. This was a move away from national targets.