Headlines: November 7th, 2005

Chris Leslie, director of the New Local Government Network has called for the debate on choice in public services to take into account the principles of fairness and equal opportunity. Mr. Leslie’s message was that the ‘big picture’ should be kept in mind at all times when offering greater choice to service users. He said: “Choice, defined as ‘delegated decision-making’, has real potential to empower communities and individuals by devolving decisions on how public services are provided from public servants and other officials. But in developing this agenda it is imperative that fairness is not put at risk, and that the current and future needs of the wider community are safeguarded.”He argued for a more refined approach to choice particularly with the reform agenda in social housing and social care, as well as in the recent Schools White Paper. He proposed a series of ‘fair choice tests’ to examine how choice-based reforms impact on principles. A quality test should establish if choice would raise the standards of service for all users. A convenience test should consider the needs of the user rather than the provider. An opportunity test should probe whether choice would widen opportunities for all. A privilege test should determine if the policy increases or decreases the likelihood of personal wealth being able to purchase access to the best provision. A fairness test should examine if the policy relies on unequal funding or varying rules for different providers. A community test should look at the interests of the wider community and check if non-service users are protected.

He also argued that there should be tests to confirm that there was sufficient capacity to enable choice for all, that the policy was efficient and gave value for money and that choice gave community ownership and engagement.