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William Mason: A recipe for saving £15bn of taxpayers' money

Freedom for Public Services by William Mason and Jonathan McMahon is published by the Centre for Policy Studies. The full report can be downloaded here.

I worked for Sir David Arculus when he chaired the Better Regulation Task Force, which in 2003 published Regulation – Less is More. This was adopted by Tony Blair, as the radical proposals we offered for cutting back the administrative costs of regulation appealed to his desire to do good. 

I moved on from the BRTF shortly after the end of David’s term of office, pleased with what we had achieved but knowing that there were still mountains to climb. In particular, I felt that taking the salami-slicing approach to regulatory reform was never going free us from destructive bureaucracy and poor regulation.  Rather, I concluded that radical structural reform is necessary, particularly with regard to regulation of our public services. 

In our report for the Centre for Policy Studies, Jonathan McMahon and I have set out how huge layers of bureaucracy and regulation can be swept away.  We challenge a notion of central control that is deeply embedded within the consciousness of too many involved in politics and working in Whitehall. In particular, we do not accept the idea that for the public to have the standards they want, policing, medicine, education and social care need to be run centrally from Whitehall.  We do not accept that we need tens of thousands of bureaucratic functionaries to check that standards are appropriately set and met.

In writing our report, we have spoken to many senior and junior professionals within the public services.  We were depressed at the tales of enveloping bureaucracy inhibiting dedicated people from doing their best for fellow citizens but heartened at the reception we received and encouraged by the fact they wanted to help us set out a vision of a better future.  We were struck by how many senior and junior public servants were convinced that, if they were given freedom to manage, they could use the same resources so much more creatively to deliver better results for our citizens.

In our report, Jonathan McMahon and I offer an alternative of high quality public services without the “nanny state” which has developed in recent years.  Our alternative is premised on trusting those who are qualified, trained and also passionate about providing public services to do the right thing because it is the right thing and delivers the best result possible, not because some bureaucrat is holding a big stick over them.  Our notion of trust is not a naïve one.  Rather it is one which is based in local communities.  We argue for local people to make democracy work for them by electing those who oversee the public services which are provided in their locality.  These elected representatives would have expert support but would be accountable to their electors rather than the Prime Minister’s Delivery Unit.  We are also supportive of efforts to create diversity of supply where it is practical to do so.  In doing this, we are building on a corpus of old style liberal and conservative literature arguing for returning power (and budgets) to people and dismantling the overly powerful centralised state which is so corrosive of societal resilience.

Our measures are practical and could be picked up by politicians of any colour (we were, incidentally, most impressed by some of John Hutton’s statements when he was at the Department of Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform). And, crucially in these hard times, they would save money – by as much as £15 billion by our estimates. But even more importantly, by creating a better balance between government and citizens, our public services would be significantly improved and our society as a whole would be enhanced.


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