Monday, July 11, 2011

The Coalition gives birth to the Open Public Services White Paper

After a long and difficult gestation, at last the Open Public Services White Paper arrived today.

Its timing could not have been less auspicious. The gaze of the media was upon the House of Commons where the Secretary of State for Culture was being flayed by the leader of the Opposition who wanted to know why the Prime Minister was not there to answer questions on Hackgate – rather than at Canary Wharf launching the plan for Open Public Services to a friendlier audience assembled by the centre-right Reform think tank.

The coincidence of the Open Public Services White Paper with the news of the break-up of the Southern Cross care home chain was unfortunate.

The White Paper set out five principles of Open Public Serices:

Choice – Wherever possible we will increase choice.

Decentralisation – Power should be decentralised to the lowest appropriate level.

Diversity – Public services should be open to a range of providers.

Fairness – We will ensure fair access to public services.

Accountability – Public services should be accountable to users and taxpayers.

It is worth considering the parentage of the new White Paper on Open Public Service. In Public Services published by the Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit, the language was of:

- 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”

That was in January 2007 in the last months of Tony Blair’s government.

In some quarters today was seen as a (another) re-launch of the Big Society. The White Paper certainly. Interestingly the only use of the term was in relation to the Big Society Bank. While the White Paper place emphasis on the role of new entrants as providers – including charities and mutuals – the New Philosophy Capital think tank was blogging quite sceptically this afternoon. The chill wings of austerity are blowing through the third sector.

How significant is the White Paper? Time will tell. The Coalition is promising more meat on the bones in coming months.

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