Press release

Opening up public services

This news article was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Modernisation of public services will give people choice and control over the services they use.

Modernisation of public services will give people choice and control over the services they use, and end the ‘get what you’re given’ culture.

People will be given more choice to shape the public services they use, putting control in the hands of individuals and neighbourhoods so everyone can benefit from the best public services available, announced the Prime Minister today.

While some of our public services lead the way, it’s clear that in many areas, they have not kept pace with people’s lifestyles and expectations, with a ‘get what you’re given’ culture too often prevailing. Building on progress already taking place in areas like schools, welfare, health and policing, the Open Public Services White Paper turns that culture on its head. And recognising that Whitehall does not know best, it begins a programme of consultation and engagement over the summer with individuals, communities, public sector staff and providers to ensure that the improvements are both ambitious and practical.

Speaking at Reform, the Prime Minister said:

I know what our public services can do and how they are the backbone of this country. But I know too that the way they have been run for decades - old-fashioned, top-down, take-what-you’re-given - is just not working for a lot of people.”Ours is a vision of open public services - there will be more freedom, more choice and more local control. Wherever possible we are increasing choice by giving people direct control over the services they use.

The five core principles for modernising public services are:

  1. Wherever possible government will increase choice
    This means giving people more direct control over the services they use, for example through personal budgets in healthcare. People will be given the power to choose where they send their children to school or which hospital they receive treatment in.
  2. Public services should be de-centralised to the lowest appropriate level
    This means giving communities more control over public services, for example by giving neighbourhood councils the chance to run the community library or local football pitch, or take control over local road improvements. We will make it easier for people to set up neighbourhood councils where they don’t already exist.
  3. Public services should be open to a range of providers
    These providers could be in the public, private or voluntary sectors. For example, in education the government is opening up services by expanding the Academies programme and introducing Free Schools to drive up standards. And we will tackle not just failing schools but coasting ones as well, ensuring that there is continuous improvement.
  4. Fair access
    The government recognises that not all people start from the same point and believe the state needs to provide extra help to those individuals who have been previously left behind. For example, the government has introduced pupil premium in schools, funding for community organisers in the poorest areas and 15 hours a week pre-school education for the poorest two year olds in the country.
  5. Public services should be accountable to users and to taxpayers
    All public services need to be accountable to the people who use them and the taxpayers who pay for them. Payment by results is one of the methods of increasing this kind of accountability, as is happening now in the Work Programme, a revolutionary new approach to supporting people back to work.

Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander said:

This is an important milestone in the government’s mission to make public services better for the people that use them. This paper alone won’t change people’s lives, but the principles it sets out will shape and improve the public services people use for generations to come. It will give people more choice, make services fairer, devolve power from the centre and make services more accountable to the people that use them.

Minister for Government Policy Oliver Letwin said:

For far too long, far too many people have had to make do with what they’ve been given, with only the better off being able to choose something else if the state let them down. That won’t be allowed to continue. We will allow people to choose the services that are right for them - the right schools for their children, the right hospital when they’re ill, and the right services for their neighbourhoods.

These principles are already being applied to public services - in particular in education and welfare. In the past year alone, for example, more than 1000 schools have applied to become academies and 20 groups of public sector employees have opted to create their own new public service ventures. The government recognises that the changes necessary to modernise public services will not happen over night. Many of the policies will require detailed design, and engaging professionals and the wider public is critical to getting it right. This White Paper is open for consultation and we will soon commence a wide-range of discussions with individuals, communities, providers and public sector workers.