Conservative Diary

« Win a copy of the new edition of British Political Facts | Main | Hague poised to invade Libya... »

Cameron makes a big promise to end the state's public service monopoly

Tim Montgomerie

Remember the headline of the Tory manifesto? Your invitation to join the government of Britain. It takes practical form today...


The front page splash in this morning's Telegraph is "Cameron's public sector revolution".

Downing Street, we are informed, believes its plans represent the "biggest shake-up in public service provision for 50 years."

A leader in the newspaper refers to the proposed reforms as "seismic".

In his blog, the Telegraph's Benedict Brogan calls today "a big moment" in the life of Cameron's government.

So what - exactly - are we talking about? David Cameron explains in an article in, yes, The Telegraph:


What Downing Street is yet to do is to paint a picture of the kind of Britain that this reform will produce. Like many of Cameron's articles, there is a focus on process rather than outcome.

Nonetheless, if the Prime Minister is serious about this presumption that any national or local state service - apart from those covering security and the judiciary - can be run by voluntary, private or co-operative groups, it really does amount to a massive moment. At the moment we are debating about a few parent-led groups running schools and an expansion of privately-delivered healthcare services. The Public Services Reform White Paper - due within a fortnight - will turn today's situation on its head. It won't be a few insurgent suppliers trying to elbow themselves into the state sector. Every state provider will have to justify their monopoly existence or be replaced by what Downing Street would describe as a 'Big Society' provider. I'd like to see the detail but these changes would, by stealth, end national pay bargaining.

Labour will, no doubt, accuse the Tories of privatisation but all the services currently funded by the state will still be funded by the state. The services will simply be provided by other groups if those groups can provide something more innovative. Voluntary groups complaining about cuts will be presented with an historic opportunity to provide social care, education and health services.

The unions will resist these reforms with everything they have. Today's public sector unions are almost as powerful as yesteryear's mining and manufacturing unions. The Coalition has been slow to modernise trade union laws. It would be sensible to do so if unions aren't to initiate industrial disruption on small turnouts of members.

Other opponents will be found in local government. Groups will be able to take over local schools and leisure centres if they can demonstrate that they can run them better. Local authorities will complain that they are getting more freedoms from one of Cameron's hands and the other hand is seizing their assets.

The devil will be in the detail of the Public Services Paper and that detail will indicate whether the folk at The Telegraph (and here at ConHome) are correct to be as excited as today's broad prospectus has led them (and us) to be. What is clear is that Cameron isn't yet ready to ease off the pedal of his breakneck Coalition. The cry from Downing Street appears to be "faster, faster".


You must be logged in using Intense Debate, Wordpress, Twitter or Facebook to comment.