Monday, July 30, 2007

Retreat from reform? Gordon Brown and public sector reform

The public sector reform think tank Reform have produced a challenging analysis of the initial policy decisions of Gordon Brown's government.

Retreat from reform (pdf available) concludes:

The new Government has presented itself as an agent of change. Its initial policy decisions do represent a real change from the previous Government. Alistair Darling’s brave statements on taxation are a positive change, since they give greater prominence to the idea of competitiveness. But for the spending departments, the change is negative and represents a reversal of reform.

It identifies the themes of the new Government’s public sector policies as:

an inputs-led approach. Ministers have praised increases in public sector spending and costs for their own sake. Their key attack on the Opposition has been over putative reductions in spending.

central intervention. Ministers have pledged to intervene in detail, from the maths curriculum in schools to the buildings of the London NHS to the numbers of houses in different regions. This is at odds with the Prime Minister’s rhetoric of a decentralised, “people first” policy approach.

the producer interest. The NHS review, for example, gives much greater prominence to the views of health service staff than to patients.

I was pleased to read that I am not alone in my scepticism about the huge efficiencies (claimed and forecast) underpinning much of policy in public services (both the public sector and the third sector eg housing associations). The report notes:

The Government has indicated that these extra costs will be funded by efficiency savings. But the recent record on efficiency savings is very weak. However, judging by the experience of previous efficiency drives, it is unwise for the Government to fund new spending commitments through the promise of efficiency savings.

The report is well worth a read.

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