A vision for more accountable public services

The Government have released their Open Public Services 2012 document which focuses on decentralising power to ensure that public services are accountable to the people that use them rather than to centralised bureaucracies.

Despite global economic woes, public demand for high-quality services has remained intense. This does not mean that more money should be spent in a hapless attempt to improve services; rather, the only feasible way of making gains in the quality of services is to introduce competition, choice and accountability.

From here on in, all Government departments will start to report on progress against this document and the Government as a whole will report annually to Parliament on progress. To promote this choice, public services will be open to independent reviews to look at barriers to choice and right to chose campaigns will be actioned.

In addition, the Government is launching a call to evidence to help them understand if there is value in enshrining in legislation of a right to choice. An example of what draft clause might look like can be seen here. They will also foster the establishment of Choice Champions who will promote choice in public services and help support citizens in making informed choices.

If a public service fails to meet a specified standard then the Government will provide a clear and simple mechanism that people can follow. Local complaints procedures will continue to be the first port of call, but if a complaint about choice cannot be resolved locally then the Government is working with the ombudsmen to: improve the awareness and understanding of their role; to use their name and shame power more effectives; and to communicate unresolved issues to the relevant elected body.

Furthermore, the Government is looking at ways of levelling the playing field so that all qualified providers in appropriate public services can compete on fair terms. They will also ensure that key data about public services is in the public domain in a comparable and accessible form.

In healthcare specifically, the Government believes in the NHS free at the point of use and funded from general taxation, based on need, not ability to pay. At the same time, the NHS is in need of reform. The number of people aged over 85 will double in the next 20 years and the cost of medicine is rising. To protect the NHS for the future, it must become more efficient.

Competition will be encouraged. It has existed in the NHS for a long time. The last Government recognised that competition can help ensure that money is spent efficiently and that patients get the very best treatment. The Government has ensured that competition is always in the patient’s interest. The new Health and Social Care Act ensures that cherry-picking of the most lucrative treatment by private providers is prohibited and competition will be on quality not price, for better or worse.

Turning to mutualisation of the public sector, the Government is giving public sector staff new Rights to Provide which will empower employees to form mutuals to bid or request to take over the services they deliver. This will allow millions of public sector staff to become their own boss – freeing up untapped entrepreneurial and innovative drive. The Government is supporting some of the most promising and innovative mutuals to reach the point of investment readiness, through the Mutual Support Programme.

There are many more areas in which the Government is helping to promote further competition, choice and accountability. I recommend looking through the plans in greater detail here.

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