Building on Progress or on Shifting Sands?

A bit of publicity and a bit of a disappointment.  The launch of another policy review, this time on public services.  The document is full of the usual New Labour platitudes about empowerment (as though that were unproblematic in itself) targets (as though the two do not contradict each other) and additional targeted investments and programmes (with no evidence of having learnt from any of the experiences of the past ten years).  But the language has changed a little.  We now hear about ‘opening up supply’.  This is contracting out by another, apparently more liberal, name.

 

To illustrate the wonders of this document, the following quote will suffice:

‘Services that are designed around the user depend on personalisation.  But there is no point in empowering citizens if their expressed preferences cannot be met – and because different people want different things, a broad base of suppliers is needed.’ (Prime Ministers’ Strategy Unit, 2007, p.44)

These two sentences jump around all over the place, summarising different debates in simplistic ways but, more importantly, associating personalisation with empowerment and, astonishingly, with the question of supply.  Suddenly, contracting out is about citizen empowerment and personalisation.  There are arguments for contracting, but there are many academics who suggest that contracting for services undermines the very basic principles of accountability, let alone empowerment.

 

The policy review, Building on Progress: public services, is available at:

http://www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/policy_review/documents/building_on_progress.pdf

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