External site: Read the article on The Telegraph website
Last year, in these pages, I set out my vision for improving the quality of our public services. It’s simple. I want us to end once and for all the closed state monopoly where central government decides what you get, and how you get it. In its place, I want truly open public services, where people can choose the hospitals and schools they go to, with the right information at their fingertips to make that choice; where different providers, from the private and voluntary sectors, can come in and offer new services that people can access free; where funding is directed to helping the most disadvantaged; and where these services are truly accountable to local people, not to politicians or bureaucrats in Whitehall.
Our public servants work incredibly hard, and yet not enough people get the great service they have paid for and have a right to expect. I want to bring to everyone the choice and standards that the best provide. That means not just a change in structures but a genuine culture shift that changes the attitude of public service providers to make them more responsive to users, and makes users feel truly empowered.
Just as these principles guiding reform are simple, so are the reasons driving it. State bureaucracy has proved too clumsy and inefficient, stifling the innovation we need at a time when value for money is so critical. I also have an instinctive belief that parents, patients and professionals are so much better equipped to make the choices that will drive improvements in our public services. Give the power to them, allow new providers to come forward with new ideas, and good things will happen.
This was the vision at the heart of the Open Public Services White Paper which we published last summer. Since then, we have worked hard to begin to make some of this a reality. In education, 24 free schools opened last year, and another 63 have been approved. By 2015, there will be 100,000 extra school places available. To make that choice more meaningful, parents can now express a preference for any state-funded school, even when they live outside the catchment area - and local authorities have a duty to grant such requests if there is space. Likewise in health, we are opening up patient choice. One of the biggest frustrations for many commuters is that they can only seem to get a GP appointment back home, and yet they are travelling by the time their surgery opens. So from April, in London, Nottingham and Manchester, we are piloting a scheme where people can access GP services where they work, instead of having to take time off whenever they need a routine prescription.
But there is more to do if we are to realise our vision of truly open public services. So today, as we publish our update to the White Paper, we are taking three new, radical steps. First, we are announcing an independent review that will specifically look at how we can extend choice to the most disadvantaged in our society. This means making sure that everyone has access to the information and support they need to make a choice, and that if they want to complain, they know how to go about it. Where we find this information and support is missing, we will act.