A choice of public services?

The Government’s controversial Health and Social Care Act, which eventually saw competition watered down, recently became law.

Barely two weeks later and competition, choice and alternative provision is back in the form of new draft legislation published by the Cabinet Office.

This features in a new paper, published just before Easter, updating progress on 2011’s Open Public Services White Paper. It comes with a ‘call for evidence’ (online consultation) on new proposals to legislate for a Right To Choice, and Choice Frameworks for services such as health, adult social care, childcare, schools and further education. We have a briefing here with more details.

Writing in the Telegraph about these new plans, underneath the headline ‘Brick by brick, we’re tearing down the big state’, David Cameron says

“I want us to end once and for all the closed state monopoly where central government decides what you get, and how you get it.”

We think choice can be a good thing in the right circumstances, and the argument is clearly far more complex than a binary choice of standardised state provision or a free-market free for all. However choice isn’t everything, in our response to the original White Paper we said,

“Choice alone is not enough and does not negate the need for good quality public services; indeed it can appear meaningless where no real choice exists.”

We also questioned the reliance on competition to drive service improvement and produce better outcomes for service users..

“especially so for the types of undeveloped markets in which many civil society organisations operate”.

We are therefore keen to see what evidence exists of where choice is appropriate and can lead to better services, especially for disadvantaged areas or unattractive/unprofitably markets. We’d be keen to hear of any local examples that NAVCA members have on this. We will be responding to the consultation, and would urge members to do likewise.

Further details of Open Public Services 2012 and the consultation are in our briefing.


Published on 12/04/2012 by John Dawson.

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