Posts Tagged ‘public service reform’

Jeremy Corbyn is a homeopathic politician plying snake oil remedies

26/07/2015, 08:30:53 AM

by Ian Moss

The Labour leadership campaign has seen some pretty unedifying accusations about the commitment of members and candidates to the core purpose of Labour.

The hard left, gathering behind Jeremy Corbyn, are whipping up anger against those that have a different view of the best policy solutions to further Labour’s principles, to their pure form of socialism.

But policies such as public service reform are not important because they might be popular with voters, they are important because they help the very people that Labour is there to represent.

The policies the Corbynites are aggressively wedded to tend to be about structures – public ownership or democratic control. That is because Corbyn is a homeopathic politician in a world that is medically complex, happily doling out homespun remedies passed down from history instead of engaging with evidence and trying to find modern solutions.

A principle is ‘improve education outcomes for those from disadvantaged backgrounds” or ‘improve health outcomes whilst ensuring free healthcare at the point of access’. It is not a principle to ‘defend a certain organisational form of institutional delivery decided at a specific point in history’. Whilst the Corbyinte left may share the principles of the reformist right, he and his supporters appear to have no curiosity about what evidence exists on how those principles would best be implemented.

Corbyn stood up on television last week and said that the 50p tax rate would raise £5bn, a figure plainly picked out of the air and not close to the sceptical position on positive revenues suggested by the IFS, the recognised independent authority on this issue.

When pressed on this, his response that his source was “some research” “by “clever people”, made it clear that this is not a man with an inquisitive mind. (His ‘research’, of course, is arithmetically impossible, given the aggregate income of people earning over £150,000 in the UK, even in the unlikely event that they all paid it).


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For Labour to win again we need Tory switchers. Only Liz Kendall can reach them

08/07/2015, 09:31:29 AM

by Cameron Beavan-King, Jake Pitt and Sam Foulder-Hughes

For those who spent time on the doorstep relentlessly trying to win voters round, it probably doesn’t need to be said that the 7th of May was a bit of a tough night. In Labour’s key seats, the results were mixed and often random; we failed to win North Warwickshire, which had a Tory majority of 54, whilst Wes Streeting managed to overturn an 8,000 majority in Ilford North. In some seats we even went backwards, notably in Morley and Outwood, but also in our southern strongholds in Southampton and Plymouth which went from red to blue.

Having campaigned in seats in the West Midlands, London and the South East, we know the great challenges that face the party in winning back trust on the economy, reaching out to voters aspirations and more broadly just seeming fit for government. It’s not an issue we seek to, or could, address wholly in one opinion piece, however the direction Labour needs to head in to win in 2020 is clear. Liz Kendall is the candidate who offers by far the best chance of returning to power in five years time.

Most elections in European democracies are still decided by the Bill Clinton rule, that “it’s the economy, stupid” and so the party with the most coherent and positive vision will almost always win. The party campaigned on a variety of important issues, such as abolishing the cruel bedroom tax. However we forgot the silent majority of British people who aren’t in dire poverty but aren’t rich either, who pays their tax and work hard. These are the ‘shy Tories’ we have to bring back in order to build a winning coalition once again like Tony Blair did in in three successive elections.

For many ‘aspiration’ is a political buzz word, but for families it is about reaching their potential and doing best by those who rely on them. It can’t be understated how important is for our party to embrace, with no ifs or buts, the working and middle class families who simply want to get on and do well for themselves. The last Labour government and the coalition relied on centrally run public services to achieve social change far too much, without realising how unaccountable they are to local people.


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Optimism and relationships are in Labour’s DNA

03/02/2015, 10:16:14 PM

by Jonathan Todd

The British economy is growing because of the hard work and ingenuity of businesses and workers. Crime remains in a long-term decline. Some public services are improving because of the efforts of public servants like those interviewed by Liz Kendall and Steve Reed in a new Progress publication.

The economy improves in spite of George Osborne, while Theresa May benefits from a trend toward falling crime that predates her time in office. Osborne’s attempted fiscal consolidation has lacked strategic direction: cutting deepest where resistance was thought weakest (local government, welfare), instead of recasting the relationship between public, private and third sectors to secure maximum combined impact. Pockets of public service innovation are, nonetheless, discernible, even if this strategic direction is lacking.

Kendall and Reed delve into these pockets: Frontline, a programme designed to attract some of the country’s highest achieving graduates into social work; Newcastle city council’s response to the government’s ‘troubled families’ programme; Oldham council, experiencing a threefold rise in residents’ satisfaction under Jim McMahon’s leadership; Participle, an organisation that designs and helps to launch projects to demonstrate what the next generation of public services should look like; and the use of personal budgets to empower people to manage their health and wellbeing in ways that best suit their particularities.

“It might be tough for those of us who love politics to face,” as Hopi Sen noted, writing for Progress about a Policy Network pamphlet published at the end of last year, “but politics is primarily a secondary function in society. Real change is being created and developed elsewhere, and politics seeks to manage, regulate, anticipate and ameliorate those changes in the interests of the people”.


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Labour needs to talk about the NHS

04/04/2014, 03:28:17 PM

by Renie Anjeh

Lord Warner, the former Labour health minister, hit the headlines earlier this week by calling for a £10-per-month charge for the NHS as part of his report for the think tank Reform.  The reaction from his fellow “comrades” was unsurprising. Some expressed their vehement disdain for the peer by launching a petition calling for his resignation from the party.  Others edited his Wikipedia page so that it included insults and untruths.

Like most party members, I am strong supporter of the NHS and I cherish the principle of free healthcare at the point of use.  However, supporting the NHS is not an excuse for refusing to face up to reality.  The uncomfortable truth, especially for Labour supporters, is that the health service’s finances are not on a sustainable footing.

It is inevitable that due to a rising ageing population and increasing numbers of people suffering from chronic conditions, against the backdrop of tight spending constraint, the funding gap will increase to £54bn by 2020.

As Alan Milburn said in 2012, “the era of big spending is over, fiscal conservatism is order of the day”.  Whoever is in government next year, will undoubtedly have to confront this problem.  Unfortunately, Lord Warner’s report just shows that the Labour party – the party of the NHS – is not sufficiently psychologically prepared for this challenge.  It is important to remember that the monthly NHS charge is one idea amongst many that Warner proposed in his report but the Labour party seemed to reject the report in its entirety.

Rather than braying for his blood, the party should have commended him for thinking seriously about this issue and should have adopted his issues on integrating budgets, investing in community services and efficiency.


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Labour needs to get local

12/02/2014, 07:00:29 AM

by Richard Watts

Today Jon Cruddas is set to speak to the New Local Government Network on what could be the answer to the key political question for Labour: how can we change the lives of people in this country with far less money than the last Labour government spent?

All political parties talk a good game on localism in opposition, but haven’t delivered in government. It was one of my criticisms of the last Labour government, and while David Cameron and Eric Pickles have talked about ‘giving power back to the people’ the reality has been a disastrous local government legacy that has seen real term budgets slashed and services up and down the country hanging by a thread. At the same time, ministers like Michael Gove have centralised power in Whitehall at a speed that would have Lenin nodding with approval.

But this time, even if Labour return to power in 2015, things for local government will be very different.  By 2015 my council will have lost over £100 million a year of funding; that’s around 40 percent of our budget. Funding isn’t likely to return to pre-2010 levels and borough’s like mine are being faced with two undeniable trends, a rising demand for services and shrinking budgets. Westminster politicians need to wake up to the fact that council budgets will fall off a cliff in 2015 and 2016 without a change in the way local government is funded.

However Britain wastes public money by spending far too much of it on managing problems through top-down national initiatives that smarter investment could have avoided.


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The power of Labour’s left means Ed Miliband’s speech on public service reform has already been neutered

10/02/2014, 04:43:34 PM

by Atul Hatwal

This evening Ed Miliband will make speech mentioning Labour’s great unmentionable, a policy area that has been mothballed since Tony Blair’s departure from Number 10: public service reform.

The new left inquisition which dominates much of today’s Labour party views Blairism as the most egregious of all the possible heresies. To openly suggest our public services are in need of reform is dangerously Blairite.

It virtually invites the type of twitter auto-da-fé experienced by those hardy Labour souls who have had the temerity to call for a tougher line on welfare or public spending.

The only criticism of public services permissible in the current orthodoxy is funding: everything would be better if there was more money and the Tory cuts were reversed. All else is doctrinally suspect.

As a result there is some excitement in anticipation of what Labour’s leader will say.

It is also why we know that Ed Miliband’s foray into new territory will only advance Labour’s thinking in the most nugatory manner.

Public service reform has always had two inextricably linked aspects: shifting power from providers to service users and improving efficiency. One leads to another: as power is shifted, and resources allocated to better reflect demand, so cost is driven down and quality, up.


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Forget Teddy Roosevelt, LBJ’s public service reforms show Labour the way to do more with less

27/01/2014, 05:24:10 PM

by Rich Durber

Ed Balls’ speech over the weekend announcing that Labour will aim to run a surplus by the end of the next parliament raises significant questions about public service reform. No matter whether you viewed the pledge as necessary political positioning or not, to make it a reality the next Labour government will need to significantly reform the state, without more money to spend.

There has been much talk in Labour circles over the past few days of Theodore Roosevelt. Commentators and activists alike have been debating the merits of ‘trust busting’ since Ed Miliband’s speech on banking reform. While the Roosevelt comparisons are certainly a fitting parallel for Ed’s plans to reform the private sector, it is less clear thus far what the party’s plans are for the public sector.

This has not always been the case. When he launched his campaign to be leader of the Labour party Miliband declared: “we need a new way of thinking about the state…We need to show we are the people who can reform the state to make it more accountable and give power away.” After Ed Balls’ speech it is clear that this strand of thinking will need to be revisited.

In doing so perhaps it is a different American president, Lyndon Johnson rather than Roosevelt, from whom Labour should draw inspiration. As fifty years ago this month he showed how the state can extend opportunity, even while reducing spending.

It was January 1964 when Johnson used his first State of the Union address to declare “unconditional war on poverty in America”. The chief weapons in that war, Johnson said, would be “better schools, better health, better homes, better training, and better job opportunities”. Its aim was “to help each and every American citizen fulfil his basic hopes…for a fair chance to make good”.


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Labour should support the government’s ministry of justice reforms

08/07/2013, 05:00:18 PM

by Ian Moss

Whisper it quietly but there is a long overdue transformation going on in the ministry of justice and Labour should support some of it. Ignoring the tired idea that parliament is at its worst when it agrees, there are a number of proposals coming from Chris Grayling that, if successful, will help reform the shabby, out of date operations of the justice system and produce efficiencies and positive reforms at the same time.

In my short time in the ministry of justice I ran a few heretical ideas up the flagpole, and it is nice to see some of them fluttering away proudly. From my lofty position within criminal justice strategy I had the luxury of not having to actually deliver anything, but equally I had the benefit of being able to roam across the system and look at the hard numbers and the operational approach.

The departmental budget was a mess, and there was no sophisticated plan to deal with the problem, with senior officials putting all of their eggs in to the basket of “reducing prison numbers” and “cutting legal aid”. When Ken Clarke was appointed as secretary of state one director general in my near view literally leapt up and whooped, punching the air. Said official had palpable relief borne out of the belief that, with Ken, they could roll through their unsophisticated plans for cuts. They had to, as there were no other plans.

Unfortunately letting prisoners out was never going to be politically acceptable and slashing legal aid, as we have seen, is a crude and unjust way of getting the budget numbers in order. Ken Clarke may have been a big beast of old but slept through his time in MoJ without any obvious interest in tackling the questions of reform that were necessary. The reforming zeal on which he built his reputation in the 80s and 90s was not in evidence.

MoJ required a wholesale transformation of its operations to release value and improve the system. I think Grayling has got to this conclusion very quickly.  Policy Exchange has also proposed some sensible measures in its Future Prisons report. Labour should take these proposals seriously and lend its political support to a long overdue overhaul and reform of the ministry’s operations.

Firstly, and importantly, large amounts of value in the department are tied up in assets that are in prime locations. Stand on Southwark bridge and look longingly down the beautiful view of the Thames. On the right bank, within plain sight will be the crude, ugly brick building of Southwark crown court. Look upstream and you will see the unedifying sight of city of lLndon’s coroners court.


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Ed’s right, small state socialism can still be radical – but Labour needs to govern better next time

02/07/2013, 07:00:11 AM

by Kevin Meagher

Whisper it, but governing is the boring part of politics. Ironic, really, given so many would-be ministers would scramble over broken glass on their hands and knees for the sniff of a chance of becoming a parliamentary under-secretary for paperclips and sustainable date-stamps.

It’s not that governing – sitting behind a desk and running things – is pointless or unrewarding; it’s just that it’s hard and time-consuming and politicians are easily distracted by the thrill of the chase. Tony Blair, of course, famously did sofas rather than desks. So Labour’s approach to government for 13 years was, crudely, to announce things then throw money at officials and assume change had been made. Job done.

This approach was tested to destruction. For public services to improve, more state spending was always needed. To make them improve a lot, spend a lot. As a result, ministers often overspent and over-legislated, but, paradoxically, under-governed too. Of course you have to put money into the Whitehall fruit machine to make the lights come on, but you still need to know which buttons to press. That’s what governing is all about.

When the buzz of the press launch has faded and the television cameras have gone away, all that is left is the spadework of navigating bills through parliament, rolling-out new programmes, retraining staff to implement the changes to policy (which invariably takes a fiendishly long time), listening to the gripes of one lobby group or another and sitting in meetings. Lots of meetings. All this slog takes time and commitment and, frankly, a few Labour ministers found themselves bewitched by the Age of Spin last time around and didn’t do the hard work that real change demands.

Take the police. Measurable crime halved under Labour (for a variety of reasons, not least the longest unbroken spell of economic growth in 200 years) but anti-social behaviour, the bureaucratic term for describing thoughtlessness and thugishness, flourished. Police numbers also swelled, while Parliament passed twenty odd pieces of criminal justice legislation.  Although the police had everything they could possibly need from Labour ministers, they still barely made a dent in tackling anti-social behaviour.

Not enough was demanded from them. In fact, unlike other public services, police performance targets were actually scrapped, apart for the single watery invocation to ‘raise public confidence’. Yet ministers didn’t ask why there had been a catastrophic loss of public trust in the first place. No chief constables were sacked for poor performance. The focus, especially after 9/11 was on security and no-one much bothered what the plod was doing – or not doing – on other fronts. It’s only now we get a sense of the rottenness at the heart of parts of our police force.


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Did we get Blair and Brown in the wrong order?

16/04/2012, 02:37:34 PM

by Kevin Meagher

When it came to public services there were always two New Labours: Tony’s and Gordon’s.

In Tony’s, public services needed “reform”. This meant structural change, private sector involvement and tough performance management. Convincing his reluctant party this was necessary gave him those famous “scars on his back”.

In Gordon’s version, the paramount consideration was pumping in extra “resources”. “Prudence with a purpose” would deliver catch-up investment.  The water of public finance would be liberally sprinkled over parched schools and hospitals. More would lead to better. A lot more would lead to a lot better.

Throughout their decade-long rule, these discrete emphases of the Romulus and Remus of New Labour became intertwined; two narratives wrapped around each other. Twin approaches to governing.

But what would have happened if they had developed sequentially rather than simultaneously? What if Labour had explored the limits of investment first before embarking on reform? Would we have ended up with a better sense of how to govern and an understanding of the limitations of public spending?

Conversely, we might also have recognised that reform cannot be a perpetual condition – and should be a reluctant expedient – followed by a decent period of consolidation – rather than a panacea, or even worse: a test of a minister’s modernising credentials.

Instead, reform and resources got bundled up together. We were spending money on things we were also changing at the same time. We kept pressing the buttons on the dashboard harder and faster in order to get a response. As we thudded away, we over-governed and under-evaluated.


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