Dale Bassett is the Research Director of Reform.
Given Andrew Lansley’s difficulties over the health reform Bill, it is unsurprising that ConservativeHome readers are taking comfort from the rest of the Government’s public service reform agenda. From welfare to education via local government, reforms are proceeding apace. Iain Duncan Smith is reforming benefits. Michael Gove is freeing schools. Eric Pickles is devolving power to councils.
But according to a new Reform report (pdf), even these Ministers may need greater support from their departments. The Department for Work and Pensions is capping benefits and getting more people into work, but the decision to link pensions to earnings rather than prices will wipe out the savings of the other reforms. The Department for Education has freed 1,500 academies from central control, but is maintaining as tight a grip as ever on the other 21,000 schools in England. The Department for Communities and Local Government is giving councils new powers while freezing their ability to vary taxes.
In a few areas, real, deep reform is happening that is revolutionising the way services are delivered. And what’s really striking is that it’s the departments that are facing significant budget reductions that are leading the change. The cuts are working.
Theresa May has implemented a consistent package of reforms which are driving better performance within tighter budgets. Police forces are saving money and improving public satisfaction at the same time; at a Reform event in 2011, the Deputy Chief Constable of West Midlands Police described his force’s financial pressure as a “burning platform” that required it to change for the better. Kenneth Clarke has made the best arguments for competition of any Minister, and has put many prisons and other justice services out to tender. The Ministry of Defence is undertaking radical civil service reform and using the private sector to jointly manage the entire defence estate (amounting to 1 per cent of the UK land mass).