Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Public sector reform - Downing Street on choice, competition and contestability

If you have a spare half an hour, I would recommend that you read the Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit’s paper on Public Services. It was published last week but the media seemed to treat it (and the other three papers) as a footnote to the saga of the Prime Ministerial succession.

In fact the Policy Review paper sets out clearly the thinking in Downing Street (certainly No 10 – maybe not No 11) – although it is "not a statement of policy".

The papers rehearses the achievements and sets out the context (demographic, social, economic, etc). Then more interestingly observes:

But there are downsides to an over-reliance on top down performance management and funding alone, and so a new phase of public service reform has evolved

This seeks to:

- Combine top-down approaches of inspection, regulation and targets

- With horizontal pressure from competition and contestability

- And bottom up incentives of choice and voice

- Supported by improvements in capability and capacity

…to create a “Self improving System”

The paper links these to changes in the NHS and elsewhere. It makes a convincing case for choice, competition and contestability. It goes on to give examples from Sweden and other countries of where such reforms have (generally) worked.

It is noteworthy that in the paper there are hardly any (maybe no) examples of where inspection and regulation have managed to improve public services.

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