Tag Archives: public services

Vince’s IPPR speech

Lib Dem leader Vince Cable MP was invited by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) Commission on Economic Justice to speak this morning. You can watch the speech here, with Vince’s bit from 10:38 in.

The entire speech is a long-read for lunchtime, from the end of this blog, but here is an overview of what Vince is calling for when it comes to outsourcing public services, which has come under fire in recent months following the collapse of Carillion and the financial woes of Capita.

Vince’s five-point plan calls …

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Austerity and Napoleon

There is an old joke: Income tax was introduced (by Pitt the Younger) to pay for the Napoleonic wars and now that those wars are over, surely it must be time to get rid of Income tax.

As a Liberal I believe in the individual and to build a society that will support and nurture that individual’s potential. If you look at examples in history, in almost every case it’s the individual who has made a difference so it makes sense to support creative/driven individuals to enable them to realise their vision.

However, society is made up of groups and communities with individuals of different capabilities. The predicament is to have a tax system that not only encourages investment and reward but one that ensures society is also equally served.

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It has to be about more than just Brexit in 2018

2018 is, for the optimists, the year when the wheels come off of the Brexit chariot for once and for all. The process of negotiating “the best possible deal for the United Kingdom” obliges the Government to face up to the brutal reality that the European Union has to hold together at all costs, and that means an outcome for us that is less good than the current arrangements. Then, as rational people, Conservative MPs will look into the abyss and realise how bad things might be.

I’m not so sure. Remember, most of them campaigned, with various levels of enthusiasm, …

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Mutualisation of public services needs to go up the agenda

One of the most interesting developments in domestic politics of recent years is the return of the debate over nationalisation in many public services: notably rail and utilities.

Labour’s 2017 manifesto put nationalisation firmly back on the agenda. Seeing as that is the case, I would argue that this offers the opportunity to make a strong case to the public for the largely ignored, but very credible model that mutualisation offers.

There is no disputing that there are many flaws with the privately-owned models that have been adopted for many public services, but equally it’s worth remembering that fully nationalised industries have had more than their fair share of problems.

In both cases, it stems from the innate conflict between the interests of shareholder interests and the interests of the workforce. In the privatised case, the interests of the workforce become a peripheral issue in favour of maximising returns, often leading to short termism, lack of public accountability, and a disenfranchised and disinterested workforce.

On the flip side, the weakness of nationalisation is that government control of the organisation means that management is heavily influenced by public opinion, which inevitably leads to a situation where unions can politicise the issues towards favouring the interests of the workforce over and above the interests of providing a good service to the public. Rewind 40 years and we can see these problems at their worst, with the nation pretty much crippled by the dominance of unions influencing public opinion and making sensible management in the public interest all but impossible.

Posted in Op-eds | 25 Comments

Lord William Wallace writes…Shrinking the State?

Liberal Democrats need to clarify where we stand on how large a public sector we support, the balance of public spending and administration between state, national/regional and local levels, and the appropriate division between private and public provision in our economy and society.  We are now faced with a Labour Party which is likely, under its new leader, to reassert large-scale state-level spending, and a Conservative Party that wants to shrink and weaken both the central state and local government.

The Conservative Government contains a number of convinced libertarians, with an almost anarchist streak in their antagonism to state action, civil servants and public services (I know – I worked with some of them until last May!).  The current rule on regulatory policy, for instance, is that ministers can only introduce one new regulation if they can find three comparable regulations to abolish: a deregulatory bias that will run into problems when the next food or health safety scandal hits.  OECD projections for government spending indicate that the UK currently intends to reduce public spending from 42% of GDP in 2014 to 36% in 2020 – taking Britain from European to North American levels of public provision.  Whitehall Departments are preparing for cuts of between 25 and 40% in ‘unprotected’ public spending.  On some calculations local authorities will have barely half the financial resources in real terms in 2020 that they had in 2010.

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Two appalling examples of lack of diversity in our public services

Before anyone mentions it, yes, I do know that the Liberal Democrats’ parliamentary gender balance is horrendous everywhere except Wales and Europe,the latter being because we only have one MEP. Stuff must be done to resolve this, but that’s not the point of this post.

This week, two examples of lack of diversity in our public services have come to light. The first has been revealed by the Scottish Liberal Democrats. Only 1% of Scotland’s Police Officers identify as coming from a BAME background – and none make it to the highest grades in the force.

Figures obtained using freedom of information laws found that – despite 7.6 percent of Scotland’s population being BAME – there are no BAME officers in the top two ranks and only two across the top four ranks held by the 446 most senior officers in Scotland.

In total, there are only 175 BAME officers out of a total 17,515 police officers.

Figures for police staff showed that there are no BAME in the top five grades, and only 69 out of 5963 staff overall.

Commenting, Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokesperson Alison McInnes MSP said:

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Opinion: Public services need public involvement

arrest in chicagoI must admit, I have become sceptical about the word ‘empowerment’.  For two reasons.  One is that it is a Blairite word, and based on a misunderstanding about where sovereignty lies.  Power isn’t distributed by an all-powerful prime minister. People already have it – they give it to the governments – but sometimes they have to be encouraged, persuaded or cajoled to use it.

The other reason I have become sceptical is my experience of the word.  I have sat in too many conferences where disabled people are encouraged to …

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Opinion: We are still living with the consequences of nationalised railways today. Turning back the clock will make matters worse.

Northern trainIn a letter to the Observer a group of Labour PPCs, including my opponent Joshua Fenton-Glynn, have proposed that the Labour should nationalise rail services.

This idea displays an ignorance of the true cause of the problems with UK railways that beggars belief. Almost every issue with rail transport can be traced not to privatisation per se, but to nationalisation, or the insufficiently liberal privatisation foisted upon us by the Major government.

In the 1980s investment in rail was at an all time low, due entirely to the nationalised nature of …

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NHS under pressure across whole UK – how do we fund the health service we need?

StethoscopeA clinical commissioning group in South Warwickshire was heavily criticised last week for suggesting that it might charge patients for use of mobility aids like crutches, walking sticks and neck braces.  A rather hyperbolic Guardian column screamed that this was the “first painful step towards the dismantling of the NHS” which seems a bit strange given that they’ve been telling us for the past two years that the NHS had been all but privatised anyway.

The furore over this idea made me think, though. While you don’t and never should …

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Ed Miliband’s “People Powered Public Services”: some interesting ideas lurk beyond the bland

I read Ed Miliband’s Hugo Young lecture on the train home last night to save you the trouble. No need to thank me. Actually there are some good parts to it, which I’ll come onto. And if you want to share my pleasure the full text is available here.

However, I’d suggest skipping the first 1,685 words which can be summarised as, “Life can be unfair. I, Ed Miliband, have noticed this and so have lots of other people, like Obama and the Pope.” Along the way he name-checks Margaret Thatcher (a conviction politician, y’see… except for all the …

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Opinion: The demise of the middle classes

I was on a policy panel recently, when I heard somebody dismissing the idea of ‘choice’ in public services as a sop for the middle classes.

Now, there are two rather odd aspects of this.

The first is that, depending on what you mean by choice – and every political party has its own distinct meaning – it isn’t actually true.

The polling I carried out during the Barriers to Choice Review showed that nearly 90 per cent want ‘choice’.  It is just that they are often muddled about what that actually means.

The second is that I hear this kind of sentence in …

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The Independent View: The Public Service Users Bill is an opportunity for Lib Dems to show whose side they’re on

weownitIn 2011, Nick Clegg strongly backed the government’s ‘open public services’ agenda. In practice, this was used as a figleaf for outsourcing everything from prisons, probation and the NHS to council services. Corporations like G4S, Serco, Atos and Capita have won billions of pounds in contracts yet they are hugely unpopular with the public and the scandals keep coming.

Clegg also promised to ‘take a hard line against the kind of blanket privatisation which was pursued by governments in the past’. Yet the coalition has sold off the Royal Mail, …

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Opinion: Typing – an important skill that we neither teach nor require

Recently I was sat in a GP’s surgery waiting for him to type out a prescription for me. Until that point I had been nothing but impressed with his patience and knowledge. Then I saw how painfully slowly he attacked the keyboard, poking at it with a few select fingers as if it was too hot to touch, swiftly withdrawing his fingers to safe distance after each quick poke at a key.

The prescription that rolled off the computer was accurate, so what was the problem save for a few extra seconds passed in chit chat whilst he did the fingers …

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Duncan Hames MP writes… Help shape Party policy in two new working groups

The Federal Policy Committee is advertising for members for two new policy working groups: Reform of Public Services, and Tackling Crime and Reform of the Criminal Justice system.

The Public Services group will look at overarching issues relevant to all public services, including themes like decentralisation and user empowerment, and also address specific policy issues in major services like education and health.

The other group will look at all aspects of preventing and reducing crime and the fear of crime, through the whole range of policy interventions.

Both groups are expected to produce policy papers for the Autumn 2014 party …

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David Boyle’s appointment is excellent news

Under Charles Kennedy’s leadership, the party had a simple and generally popular approach to public services: Kennedy consistently supported higher spending on favourite public services and appointed as party spokespeople those with experience of that service. So in education, for example, it was ex-headteacher Phil Willis leading for the party, promoting costed policies to put more cash into the party’s priorities.

Overall, the party’s plans involved raising at least as much in extra taxes or savings as it wanted to spend, so the net effect was fiscally respectable but for each individual public service the party’s answer was pretty much, “we’ll …

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Opinion: time to shift the public services debate?

Every nation dates the beginning of its welfare system from a different date. In Britain, we usually date it to 1909 and also 1942 – because that was the date that Sir William Beveridge published his famous report.

It’s the only government report in history to have reached bestseller status. British soldiers went into action against the Nazis with it in their pocket.

It provided hope, but it also set out the blueprint for the future, caring world. But there was a problem there, in retrospect, that goes to the heart of why public services remain such …

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Opinion: Localism is the answer

This year, there’s a lot of concern about public service cuts and rises in taxes for certain groups. This, to me, indicates the problem facing anyone in government – the British public wants better public services and lower taxes.

I fully believe that the electorate is not stupid. But, right now, it’s somebody else’s problem – how to square the circle between wanting good public services and as much cash as is needed to achieve this, and paying as little tax as possible. These aims are mutually exclusive in the main, and certainly as exercised by New Labour and Tory.

The …

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Opinion: Before the debate – What’s the evidence?

The relaunch of the Beveridge group featured in Lib Dem Voice on 10th January, said that it hoped to generate debate amongst Liberal Democrats about how public services are best delivered.

Liberals in general are clear that public services should be democratically accountable at the lowest possible level. Where there is far less agreement is the role of choice, competition and the private and voluntary sector in provision of these services – particularly in relation to health and education. Inevitably many people’s reactions are heavily influenced by their own personal experience as a service user, public service employee or indeed …

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Opinion: What do the Lib Dems and the Big Society have in common?

Being a student, I am lucky enough to have very flexible working hours, and I’ve put these to good use this autumn helping with Brian Paddick’s campaign to become the first Lib Dem Mayor of London.

Something I’ve noticed with creeping inevitability about the campaign is the similarities between myself and the other people turning up on Fridays – the vast majority of whom are male and pale like me.

This is symptomatic of a wider problem with volunteer organisations in general, and cuts to the heart of a political philosophical gulf between us and the tories: volunteers are people in a position to volunteer.

While conservatives were perfectly at …

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David Boyle writes… The missing explanation of public service failure

The doyen of Liberator magazine, Simon Titley, just sent me through a cutting from the Leicester Mercury which gives us just a glimpse at the reasons why public services became so expensive under New Labour.

The report tells us of the unused regional fire control centre for the East Midlands, standing empty in Castle Donington, but still costing £5,000 a day to run, with burgeoning interest accruing in the PFI contract. It wasn’t just the dream of regional government, or the manifest problems of PFI, that caused the problem here. It was another example of a huge …

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Trial and error is the most successful problem solving technique

So said Tim Harford (known to many as the presenter of Radio 4’s More or Less as well as a distinguished economics writer) last night at the Royal Society of Arts. Harford was kicking-off a week long series of talks to promote his new book, Adapt: Why Success Always Starts With Failure and was making the point that the modern world is too complex for us to hope to solve many problems by simply getting the best brains to think up the one answer. A far better route to take is to experiment with many different solutions and see …

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LibLink: Mark Pack – The Lessons from Beethoven String Quartets for Modern Public Services

Over on Discussion Point, our very own Mark Pack has penned an interesting piece discussing how public services can be reformed to meet changing circumstances. And yes, the piece really does successfully use a Beethoven string quartet as its starting point – but you’ll have to go and read the whole article to see how.

In the meantime, here’s an extract:

There was a period in the early 1990s when politicians, including many on the centre-left, were enthused with the idea of rethinking the purpose of public services in such radical ways as David Osborne and Ted Gaebler’s book Reinventing Government

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Opinion: The ethics of the case for public sector reform

David Cameron’s article on public service reform in the Telegraph was the opening shot in what could be a significant battle both within the Coalition and across the House. The case presented raises at least three important ethical issues.

First, the way in which evidence is being used to justify these proposals is deeply suspect. Mr Cameron states that publicly providing bureaucratic and target-driven services might be worth supporting if they delivered quality services: “but the evidence shows otherwise. Whether it’s cancer survival rate, school results or crime, for too long we’ve been slipping against comparable countries”. These are very …

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Daily Mail urges readers, “Vote Lib Dem”

Well, almost. But those were the two words which leaped out from the screen when I saw this headline on the Mail’s website:


To speak to a human being when you phone customer services… vote LibDem

Here’s the story:

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Will Tory Barnet’s ‘Ryanair Council’ model backfire?

There’s been plenty of reaction to yesterday’s Guardian story in which Tory-controlled Barnet council revelled in their plans to adopt the practices of no-frills airlines like Ryanair in their delivery of local services:

Barnet wants householders to pay extra to jump the queue for planning consents, in the way budget airlines charge extra for priority boarding. And as budget airline passengers choose to spend their budget on either flying at peaktime or having an in-flight meal, recipients of adult social care in Barnet will choose to spend a limited budget on whether to have a cleaner or a respite carer or even a holiday to Eastbourne. Other examples of proposed reforms include reducing the size of waste bins to minimise the cost of council rubbish collections.

The proposals are being seen as an example of “new Conservatism” which is spreading among Tory-controlled boroughs. Observers believe “radical outriders” such as Barnet offer a glimpse of how a David Cameron government could overhaul public service provision in an era of heavy spending cuts.

The Evening Standard’s Paul Waugh has dug out a couple of revealing quotes, first from Tory Barnet councillor John Hart:

With council tenants, and I’ll admit I am putting it crudely, it has been a lot of ‘my arse needs wiping, and somebody from the council can come and do it for me’.”

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