With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement about the open public services White Paper.
There could not be a more important issue than this. Public services save lives, rescue people from disease and ignorance, and protect people from crime and poverty. Much of what is done by our public services is fantastic and they are among the best in the world, but we can do even better. This Government have a vision, which is set out in this White Paper, about how we can do better.
The central point is that when public services are not up to scratch, those who are well off can pay for substitutes, but for those who are not well off, there is no opportunity to pay for substitutes. We need to give everybody the same choice in and power over the services they receive that well-off people already have. This White Paper sets out how we will put that vision of choice and power for all into practice.
Our principles are clear. They are choice, decentralisation, diversity, fair access and accountability. We will increase choice wherever possible; power will be decentralised to the lowest appropriate level; public services will be open to a diverse range of providers; we will ensure that there is fair access and fair funding for all; and services will be accountable to users and taxpayers.
I will give examples of how those principles will apply in specific public services that cater for specific individuals. First, we will ensure that every adult receiving social care has an individual, personal budget by 2013, and we are moving towards personal budgets in chronic health care, for children with special needs, and in housing for vulnerable people. That means that there will be more choice and power for people who need those services. They will be able to choose what their money and the taxpayer’s money is spent on.
Secondly, we are making funding follow the pupil in schools, the student in further education, the child in child care and the patient in the NHS. That means that there will be more choice and power for people who need those services. They will be able to choose where the money is spent.
Thirdly, we are providing fair access so that, for example, a pupil premium follows pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds and a health premium is paid to the local authorities that achieve the greatest improvements in public health for people in the least healthy parts of the country. We attach huge importance to that agenda. We want genuine equality of opportunity and genuine social mobility.
Fourthly, we are providing open access to data so that people can make informed choices about the services they use, such as crime maps, whereby they can see whether the local police are preventing crime in their street; health outcomes, whereby they people can see which hospitals and GPs achieve the best results; standardised satisfaction data for all public services, whereby they can see exactly which service providers are providing the quality of service they want; and open, real-time data on road conditions, speeds and accidents along our motorways, whereby they can make informed choices.
Fifthly, we will provide a new system of redress, through beefed-up powers of the ombudsmen to step in when a choice to which people have a right is denied. However, we are going further. We are not only concerned about increased choice and power for individuals, we are also determined to increase choice and power for communities so that they can determine how money is spent on their communal public services. We will do that by making it far easier for communities to take over and run public assets and assets of community value, by giving them the right to build houses for their own children and by giving parish councils and community groups the right to challenge, enabling them to take over local services and making it easier for people to form neighbourhood councils where there is none at present. We will also give neighbourhoods vastly more power to determine their own neighbourhood planning and the ability to challenge the local police at beat meetings, informed by crime maps. Let us remember that the people at those meetings will each be electors of the local police commissioner.
We recognise, of course, that some services will inevitably continue to be commissioned centrally, or by various levels of local government. Here, too, we are aiming at decentralisation, diversity and accountability. The White Paper sets out how we will use payment by results to transform welfare to work, the rehabilitation of offenders, drug and alcohol recovery, help for children in the foundation years and support for vulnerable adults. In all those areas, a diverse range of providers will be given a huge incentive to provide the social gains that our society so desperately needs by being rewarded for getting people into work, out of crime, off drugs and alcohol and into the opportunities that most of us take for granted.
To strengthen accountability, the White Paper also sets out the most radical programme of transparency for Government and the public sector anywhere in the world. To unlock innovation, the White Paper commits us to diversity of provision, removing barriers to entry, stimulating entry by new types of provider and unlocking new sources of capital. To ensure that public sector providers can hold their own on a level playing field, the White Paper sets out measures to liberate public sector bodies from red tape.
To encourage employee ownership within the public services, the White Paper sets out the measures that we are taking to promote mutualisation and employee co-operatives. To ensure that services continue if particular service providers fail, it sets out the principles for the continuity regimes that we are establishing service by service. [Interruption.] Marxist or not Marxist, in the past 13 months this Government have done more to increase choice and power for those served by our public services than the Labour party achieved in 13 years. The White Paper describes the comprehensive, consistent, coherent approach that we are taking to keep our public services moving in the direction of increased choice and power for service users, so that we can provide access to excellence for all. That is the aim behind the White Paper, and I commend it to the House.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his courtesy in providing me with a copy of his statement ahead of time. I have to say that although I believe absolutely his sincerity in what he has told the House, his comparison with the Labour Government wins the parliamentary prize for blooming cheek, if that is not unparliamentary language. I would rather rely on the judgment of Reform, the right-of-centre think tank, about these proposals. It states:
“The Coalition may argue that these inconsistencies”
in the White Paper
“are good politics. In fact they are bad politics because they undermine confidence that the Government is serious about reform.”
That is the problem, because there is nothing new in this White Paper.
Today’s statement is typical of the Government’s approach to policy in general. As the right hon. Gentleman reflected, our public services, on which people of all ages in our country depend and which are often the determinant of whether their life is worth living, face significant challenges, particularly at the hands of the Tory-led coalition, which is making cuts too far and too fast. People live much longer and have ever-rising expectations, but it appears from the way in which this White Paper was launched that the Cabinet Office is more preoccupied with spin and presentation than in substantive proposals.
The White Paper contains few new ideas and even fewer new proposals. In most of the cases to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, the Government are lagging behind the action of the previous Labour Government. He referred to personal budgets. The Sunday Times was told several weeks ago that the right to a personal budget, which is now used by approximately 250,000 adults, was to be extended to those with long-term conditions and to children with special needs, yet there is nothing of that in the White Paper. The right hon. Gentleman also referred to the expansion of mutuals, which was also showcased in a variety of this weekend’s newspapers. Back in November, the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General undertook to put in place rights to provide for public sector workers, meaning that they could take over the running of services, but no time scale for such proposals has been forthcoming.
Ahead of today’s White Paper, I set out three tests for public service reform. First, will the reforms make services more accountable and responsive to the needs of service users? Secondly, will there be clear accountability for how public money is spent, and will members of the public be protected? Thirdly and finally, will the proposals strengthen the bonds of family and community life?
The Government are failing the test of reform, because their policies are inconsistent between Departments and sometimes within them, and nothing more has been done to put communities in control or to make people more powerful.
My questions to the Minister, therefore, are these. Given that this much-trumpeted and much-awaited White Paper has not even caught up with the legacy of the previous Labour Government, who deleted the ambition from it: the officials or the Liberal Democrats? What are the plans for millions of people to become their own bosses, as was set out in the coalition document? What assurance does he give to those workers that there will be continuity of pensions and employment benefits? When will the coalition Government exceed and expand the proposals already put in place for personal budgets by the previous Labour Government? He may have received private advice that hospitals and schools should be allowed to fail, but will he make it absolutely clear, and publicly, that he will not allow that to happen? In the funding of those new services, will he also rule out competition by price?
The Reform report says:
“Viewed as a whole, the Government’s public service reform policies are all over the place. The Government’s failure to adhere consistently to its principles gives an air of unreality to the whole programme.”
The losers will not be Members of this House, or even members of the Government, but the millions of people up and down the country whose quality of life depends on the public services that they use.
I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for her critique, but I think she has to decide whether her objection is that the White Paper does not do as many of the things that the previous Labour Government were doing already—that was part of what she seemed to be arguing—or that the proposals will do damage. If she is maintaining both positions, she must be admitting that the Labour Government did great damage, which I doubt is what she wants to admit.
To some degree, the White Paper continues where the previous Labour Government left off—they did some things that we think were good and which we are carrying through, evolving and developing. That is a sensible and, I hope the House will agree, grown-up way of conducting politics because not everything our opponents think or do is necessarily wrong. However, the White Paper carries the previous Government’s programme much further, deeper and wider to deal with the very questions that the right hon. Lady addressed. For example, under the previous Administration, there was no proper system for continuity of service. One reason for the problems with Southern Cross—a legacy issue left by the previous Government—is that the previous Government did not design proper continuity-of-service regimes for the health and social care services. We are now attempting to design such regimes for all services. I hope that on mature reflection she will welcome that.
The right hon. Lady asked whether we would accept competition by price, which we have made abundantly clear we will not accept, including in the NHS. We want competition by quality, which is very different, although I assume she would agree that it makes sense to accept competition partly by price when trying, as the Government are doing, to tender through central procurement. That is certainly something that the previous Government did all the time. There are differences here, but they do not amount to inconsistencies; they amount to a coherent attempt to apply a set of principles differently in different services precisely because different services demand different treatments. She must know that. If she is claiming that much of this depends on what the Labour Government did, I would point out that they certainly did different things in different places. The White Paper is about carrying forward a programme that will benefit those using public services by giving them choice and power.
May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on basing his reforms on the admirable principles of choice and of giving people the information to make informed choices and, where possible, a diversity of providers to choose between? Choice is good not only for the people making the choice, but for the vast majority who will not exercise that choice but will see the quality of services rise under the influence of choice. However, may I caution him about trying to shoe-horn too many services under one elegant, all-embracing umbrella? Experience shows that it is better to do it section by section, service by service, because the real world is never as elegant as one’s intellectual constructions.
I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend, which is why the White Paper specifically makes clear not only that we will treat individual services differently from community services and services commissioned centrally, but that we will take each service on its own merits and design a regime that applies the general principles differently. That is clearly the right way to go. However, his point is vital. The purpose of giving choice and power to individuals and communities is not just to benefit the particular individuals making the choices; it is to benefit everybody by ensuring that those choices are brought to bear in a way that improves services for all.
The right hon. Gentleman will know that I am a long-standing supporter of decentralisation and involving more local people in their public services. His White Paper and previous statements have made much of involving social enterprises and charities and the third sector in the provision of public services. On that basis, will he confirm that there will be an asset lock when services are transferred, particularly to social enterprises, to ensure that the organisations carrying out these services are genuine social enterprises? If he really means what he says, why have 90% of major contracts for the Work programme gone to big companies such as Serco, Capita and G4S, leaving the social enterprise sector and charities to pick up the crumbs from the table?
In answer to the right hon. Lady’s first point, I would say that when assets are being transferred provision needs to be made to ensure that they are there for the public good and on a permanent basis. We intend to do that in every case in which it applies. On her point about the Work programme, I think she is missing a vital component of what the Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling), who has responsibility for employment, has done. It is a textbook case: he was concerned that not all the bids would come from consortia in the voluntary and community sector—only a few did—so he took steps to create a protocol relating the prime contractor to the subcontractors, as a result of which the prime contractors have to treat properly the small voluntary and community bodies that in many cases are also the subcontractors. We desperately need—and intend—to get that into the mainstream of how the Government go about business.
In welcoming this White Paper, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether he agrees that one of its key foundations is the doctrine that information is power, and that if we want to make public services really accountable to the people who use them and pay for them, we will have to learn the new discipline of telling sometimes uncomfortable truths about those areas in which public services do not live up to the standards that we all want to see? That is what Mr Gorbachev used to call “glasnost”. May we have a policy of glasnost in our public services?
I completely agree with my right hon. Friend that glasnost has to precede and accompany perestroika; we cannot have reconstruction, or proper choice, without transparency. That is why we have put in place exactly what he recommends—namely, a transparency regime that will in many cases cause difficulties and embarrassments for the Government. That will be worth bearing, however, to achieve real improvement. I shall give my right hon. Friend an example. In the past, there were many people, not only Labour Members but among the public at large, who said that crime maps would have no real effect and that no one would be interested in them. However, millions of people have now started using crime maps. When we also give those people the right to use beat meetings and make them electors of locally elected police commissioners, we shall be transferring power from the central state out to the people who are being served. That is a very powerful combination.
Is not this White Paper the somewhat unfortunate offspring of the Minister’s previous passionately held ambition to privatise the world and the first Thatcherite attempt to take away power from local authorities, which resulted in all in-house services being taken away from local political power and brought absolute chaos for those who were dependent on the services? As he has clearly not learned from those previous mistakes, how can he possibly guarantee that the same chaos will not ensue once this White Paper goes through?
The hon. Lady has to deal with a question between herself and her own Front Bench. She will have noticed that the right hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Tessa Jowell) made it clear that she thought that our proposals lagged behind what the Labour Government had already tried to do. I do not think that the Labour Government would ever have accused themselves of trying to privatise everything in sight. If the Opposition are saying that the White Paper continues measures that the Labour Government were doing, they cannot possibly accuse us of trying to privatise everything in sight. Nor would it be sensible to privatise everything in that way. The White Paper makes it absolutely clear throughout that we are neutral as between public sector providers, voluntary sector providers, community groups, mutuals, co-operatives and the private sector. I hope that we will eventually get over this absurd ideological divide, because we want something very simple—namely, the best service for the person who is using it. We do not care who provides the best service; we just want to ensure that the best service is always available and that people have a choice between providers so that they can get it. I would have thought that that would join the two sides of the House.
Between 1997 and 2010, there was a 57% real-terms increase in public spending, but there was no such corresponding increase in productivity in the public sector. How does my right hon. Friend envisage his plans increasing productivity and delivering greater value for money, including for our taxpayers in Dorset?
I am delighted to help out my hon. Friend and Dorset colleague on this. What he says is absolutely true: there was a vast increase in spending on public services during the last Government. Alas, the improvements in the outcomes were not as great as the inputs. That is precisely what we are trying to tackle, and we are doing it in an age-old way, by introducing innovation and diversity of supply, as well as choice and power for the people using the services, so that there is real pressure on all providers to improve. We need continuous pressure for improvement and continuous transparency on whether the services are improving, as well as a continuous ability for people who find a service being provided better elsewhere to choose the best service. Those are the methods that always improve quality.
Most of the examples that the Minister has given are devolved, although he did mention welfare to work. He may know that there is concern in many rural and remote communities about the ability of alternative providers to deliver services. Can he at least give us an assurance that such change will not be driven through for purely ideological reasons where there is clearly no infrastructure to support alternative deliverers?
Yes, in the sense that this White Paper sets out a programme not to enforce diversity of provision, but to enable it. If the community wishes to leave a particular service that is provided by only one provider where it is, that will be for the community to judge. If the community believes that in some cases it is worth having a diversity of suppliers, that is what the community will be able to do. I am speaking now about areas that are mainly devolved, as the hon. Gentleman said; hence, I am speaking about England. I leave it to him and his colleagues to deal with those in Scotland. In the case of the Work programme, there is a diversity of suppliers; indeed, there had to be, in order to create competitive pressure to ensure that those who succeed also succeed in being paid, and that those who do not succeed are quickly replaced by those who will, because it is a payment-by-results programme and the aim is to get people back to work. We want the providers that are best at getting people back to work to be those that remain in business.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement and the excellent White Paper, which lays such emphasis on choice for individuals in the type of public services they wish to have. Does he agree that we cannot say that we are in favour of choice and then insist that a particular service be run by a monopolistic local authority? Nor can we say that we are against competition if we are also complaining about too much public procurement going to large private sector companies that were in favour of more competition, not less.
My hon. Friend is right that we have to maintain consistency. If we are going to achieve real choice and real power for those who are served by public services, we have to allow for diversity of provision and to be on our guard always to ensure that those who can enter the market are able to do so. That is one reason why the White Paper contains specific provisions for redress where particular providers find that they are being kept out of the market. One of the techniques that we are using for doing that was developed by the previous Government. The competition and co-operation panel and its rules, which were set up by the last Labour Government, will apply in the NHS. That is the right kind of system, and we need to replicate it in a whole series of other domains where diverse providers currently have no redress if they are prevented from entering the market.
The right hon. Gentleman made a lot in his speech of the potential for local community groups to take over assets of community value and seize control of planning in their areas. He will be aware that there are community groups in various areas of the country—I would remind him of the route of High Speed 2—that are not necessarily in favour of development and may wish to use enhanced powers to stop it. He will also be conscious that the Chancellor said in his Budget speech that in such instances of national economic development interest, the default planning position should be to say yes. Who will prevail in a conflict between a community wanting to stop a development and the Chancellor wanting it to proceed?
The right hon. Gentleman is too much of an expert to need me to tell him this, but I will tell him because he asks for it. We have, of course, established a two-level system. For most planning decisions, we hope that the neighbourhood will take charge by engaging in neighbourhood planning. We believe that the incentives that we have built into the financial system—including the ability to get a meaningful proportion of the community infrastructure levy paid to the neighbourhood if it has more housing and development in its area—will lead neighbourhoods on the whole to prefer development. The presumption of sustainable development means that their neighbourhood plans will have to include development of an appropriate kind in order to pass muster. There will be an assessment of local housing need that contributes to that, which plans will have to observe.
However, nobody is going to pretend in our Government, any more than in the right hon. Gentleman’s Government, that any neighbourhood will welcome a nuclear power station just next to it or a railway line running straight through it. Of course there will be objections in those cases, which is why we have maintained and democratised the very system that he and his colleagues set up—because they, too, operated a two-level system—in order to accelerate planning applications for major pieces of national infrastructure. There is no disagreement between us and the right hon. Gentleman on that, and there is no reason for him to invent one.
I very much welcome what we have heard about employee involvement in the running of organisations, and mutuality is a subject that my party has advocated for a long time. I also welcome the greater role for parish councils in local services. I am concerned, however, about local assets being run by community groups and the accountability of that mechanism. Will the Minister ensure that, as these proposals move forward, accountability lies at the heart of any change?
One danger of welfare to work is that people can be put into jobs for which they are totally unsuited. How long will these people need to stay in work before their providers are paid for the result of their efforts in finding them a job?
The Work programme sets out a series of staged payments made to the providers when they get people into work. Full payment is made only if they keep those people in work over a sustained period. There is a huge incentive for each provider to find people work only of a kind that they will wish to remain in for the long term.
The Government should be congratulated on bringing forward a genuine Conservative proposal. Was the Minister advised by his civil servants that this policy was both brave and courageous and is there a danger that the Government will row back from this as the years go on?
No, there is no danger that the Government will row back from this as the years go on. I can tell my hon. Friend that I have received a great deal of advice—some of it highly constructive and some of it not at all constructive—as has my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Secretary, with whom I have worked closely on producing this White Paper.
Using the example of Southern Cross, on which a statement should have been made today, will the Minister tell us clearly what the White Paper says about market failure? The Government have been absolutely silent about market failure in this public service, as a result of which literally thousands of elderly people are now concerned about where they will spend their future.
As I said in my opening remarks, Southern Cross is a clear case of a legacy failure from the previous Government, because the arrangements under which Southern Cross operated—[Interruption.] There is no point in Labour Members denying this; the arrangements under which it operated were set up during the previous Administration. There is a serious point of public policy here, which is that a proper continuity regime was not established in the national health service or the social care system by the previous Government. I admit that this also applies to Governments before that, but it now needs to be cured. That is why we set out in this White Paper a series of principles that will govern the continuity regimes that we will set up to make sure that when individual providers fail, the people using the service have continuity in respect of it. We are fulfilling that same principle in what we are doing now to ensure that every single person looked after by Southern Cross continues to receive continuity of care.
I welcome the White Paper in putting some flesh on the bones of the big society. Does my right hon. Friend agree that for the big society to work, it has to support the little society? Will he make sure that the community groups up for tender are not accessed only by the big Tesco campaigning charities so that genuinely local and grass-roots organisations will have an equal chance?
Yes, my hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is indeed a point we make very forcefully in the White Paper. It is our intention that a local community group should be able to get to work and do things itself either in its own local neighbourhood or as a service provider to individuals on its own basis in its own way. The means we use to achieve that is ensuring that, if the little providers are excluded from entry to the open opportunities we are creating, they will have redress.
If local communities within a city or town decide that they want to take over the local park, how will the budgets be set, will they increase over time, and what will happen in respect of the possible residualisation of, say, the 50% of parks for which a viable service can no longer be run?
The hon. Lady appears to think that we are talking about amounts of money here, but what we are talking about is how the same amount of money is used. Whatever amount of money is being spent at the moment on a park, we say that the locals should have the right to challenge and to be able to take over the park if they can provide a proper way of running it themselves for the same amount of money—neither more nor less. I would have thought that the hon. Lady shared that ambition with me; it will not cause the problem she alludes to.
I congratulate the Government on picking up the best of the Blair legacy for the purposes of these reforms. Like the Minister, I noted the observation of the right hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Tessa Jowell) that there was nothing new in the White Paper. What consideration have the Government given to the role of trade unions as providers and enablers, and does the Minister believe that they could provide such services for their members?
I hope very much that trade unions will play a role. In conjunction with Cabinet colleagues, I am holding a series of meetings with public service unions to discuss how they can help to design some of the details of the reforms so that they will work better.
The White Paper includes a commitment to promoting mutuals and co-operatives, but, as many Labour Members have pointed out, the rhetoric does not quite match the reality. The reality is that the diversity of which the right hon. Gentleman talks does not include alternative structures. What will he do to enable mutuals and co-operatives to compete for public services on a level playing field with all the other organisations?
The Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General, my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr Maude), is taking a series of steps not just to enable, but to promote mutualisation and co-operatives across the whole range of public services. [Interruption.] I beg the hon. Gentleman to give us a little time. That action is already beginning to work, and I think that in four years’ time he will see a vast field of mutuals and co-operatives working constructively throughout public services.
We want to be strictly neutral. We want to favour providers of all kinds—mutuals, co-operatives, voluntary sector organisations, community groups, private sector bodies and, of course, the public sector itself—if they can provide the best possible services for users of those services. That is our aim.
As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on employee ownership, I congratulate the Government on the White Paper. Might some thought be given—in addition to an asset lock—to the provision of a golden share in some of these enterprises? By giving some scope and protection in the short term, might that not allow more of them to be transferred into the mutual and employee-owned sectors?
My hon. Friend makes a good and interesting point, and there may well be cases in which that is the appropriate method. I know that he is a serious student of these matters. Perhaps when he has had time to read the White Paper, he would like to discuss where that idea might apply. We are certainly more than willing to entertain it.
The Minister said in his statement that the White Paper “sets out the most radical programme of transparency for Government and the public sector anywhere in the world.” Will that apply to private sector companies and other organisations that might end up running public services?
It will apply to every public service provider, regardless of sector. We are interested not in who the provider is, but in whether the service provided is a good one. In every instance we will be totally transparent about the quality of services, and will enable people to make choices on that basis. If the private sector cannot match the voluntary or public sector, people will choose to take the offerings of one of those sectors, and that is as it should be.
I welcome the statement and the White Paper, and note the already enthusiastic interest in these matters in my constituency. Does the Minister agree that the transition from ideas to action will be best effected through co-operation and partnership between providers, professionals and users?
I think that my hon. Friend will be proved right in many cases. I hope that he will encourage just such co-operation in his constituency, as I will in mine. If there are any instances in which he feels that we could assist that process, we should be more than delighted to meet him and discuss how we can do so.
The Minister has made much of transparency and accountability, but if data are to enable citizens to hold public bodies to account they must be accessible in a consistent form, as, for example, crime maps are. What central guidance will the Minister establish to ensure that citizens have access to data so that they can hold public bodies to account?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right. Consumers, patients, pupils and all the other users of services cannot possibly be expected to make the choices we are going to enable them to make on an informed basis unless there are standardised data. That is why we are going to produce standardised satisfaction data in each public service so—[Interruption.] Yes, so people can see what is being provided and how happy, or unhappy, people are with the results. For example, patient-reported outcomes in the NHS are a vital component in patients making choices about where to go for their treatment, but information on that has been lagging for years. I know the previous Government were in principle in favour of that, but we will now bring them into action across the public services, as well as objective data in standardised form.
May I refer back to the question of my right hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Mr Dorrell)? I used to advise the Gorbachev Government on glasnost and perestroika, and what was missing then was innovation from the grass roots up. Will my right hon. Friend the Minister therefore say a little more about the extent of the innovation that he is expecting to come from this?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that there is no point in a system that does not allow genuine innovation. My hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth West (Conor Burns) rightly made it clear in a previous question that the recent productivity record of the public services has been lamentable; their productivity has not increased commensurately with the increase in investment. Part of the reason for that is lack of innovation. In the most effective services across the world, there is continuous innovation, and that often comes from new small entrants. That is why the thrust of the White Paper is to promote and enlarge the scope for new entrants with new ideas to create innovations and more productive methods of doing things, which will, of course, result in the public’s money being used better in providing the services people want.
It was an interesting statement, but is not the danger that the Government may get a great reputation for reorganising public services rather than actually running them? Why cannot the Government concentrate on the boring, unglamorous job of promoting efficient, accountable management? Indeed, the word “management” was curiously missing from the statement.
My hon. Friend is right in that I cannot recall a single instance in the White Paper of our referring to ourselves as “managing” public services. That is because we do not think Ministers are particularly good at managing things. We think Ministers and Governments are better at creating frameworks within which others, who are professionals, can manage things and be given the incentives to manage them best for those whom they are serving.
During my time working in the hospice movement, I witnessed time and again that the independence of hospices enabled them to provide first-class care, and that parents of children in hospices would often say that they had set the benchmark for the care they had received. Will not the freeing up of public services from the Whitehall grasp enable them to learn from the hospice movement and provide first-class public services in this country?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The hospice movement provides an admirable example of much that is best about public service in our country, and we do, indeed, want to learn from it in many respects. We are, of course, trying to ensure that the method for funding the hospice movement always preserves its independence and ability to carry on providing the unbelievably good service it currently provides.
I am glad to hear the Minister’s commitment to open data in improving public services, but he should beware of handing it over to organisations that treat public information as a commercial asset. Is he aware of the obstacles that Network Rail and train operators raise to thwart volunteers working with real-time train running data, despite their own dependence on public subsidy? Will he demand open access to that data, to promote service innovation?
I welcome the White Paper. As the funding will be following the child, the student and the patient, does my right hon. Friend agree that as well as giving more choice and power, money will be focused where there is real excellence in these sectors?
Yes, my hon. Friend is absolutely right. What we are about is trying to improve public services for all. By giving people choice and power, we enable the money to be focused, as she rightly says, on the places that are seen to be best by the service users, thereby increasing the proportion of public services that are excellent and gradually dragging up the average. Of course we also want to make sure that we do not have any coasting or substandard services, so she will also find that the White Paper contains a series of measures precisely to target providers that are consistently failing or consistently mediocre.
Last Friday, I met representatives of a number of voluntary organisations across the black country. Does the Minister agree that it is precisely those groups that we need to energise to get involved in improving the delivery of public services in my constituency?
I do agree with my hon. Friend. It is vital that we energise the voluntary and community sector now, and the White Paper will show the sector a huge path forward. The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (Mr Hurd), who has responsibility for civil society and who was here a moment or two ago, will shortly say more to the voluntary sector about the opportunities that the open public services White Paper framework provides for it.
What opportunities will these proposals present to the more than 25 parish and town councils in my constituency to take over public services provided by the borough and county councils, either by themselves or together with other local groups?
My hon. Friend raises an interesting point and he will find in the White Paper that there is precisely the intention to give parish councils and neighbourhood councils, as they arise in places that do not currently have parish councils, much more ability to take over services and run them on behalf of local people. If he would like to discuss how we can take that forward, I am sure that, like me, the Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark), who has responsibility for decentralisation, would be delighted to discuss that with him.