» Thursday, March 8, 2007

Cabinet/Policy Review

The Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman (PMOS) briefed journalists on the policy review. He said that Cabinet this morning was considering findings from two working groups of the policy review – public services and crime, security and justice. In his introduction, the Prime Minister focused on the need to take public service reform a stage further, particularly in light of the presentation from Ben Page of IPSOS MORI who had led public engagement seminars across the country in five different regions, which culminated in his Citizen’s Summit on Saturday at No10. Mr. Page’s presentation highlighted that the public had seen improvements, but wanted to see more. People also wanted flexibility in public services, but were concerned about a post-code lottery, they also wanted fair services, but were critical of those who abused them. That underlying sense of fairness was a recurring theme in his presentation.

The public also believed that citizens should take more responsibility, but were in favour of encouragement first, rather than sanctions and penalties, though that may be a last resort. The reports would be published this month, and when they were, they would offer a clear programme for further reforms, focusing particularly on empowering citizens to shape the services around them, opening up the supply side, so that the greatest possible diversity was encouraged, and that the Government developed a stronger focus on the commissioning of services and expanded the role of the third sector.

The PMOS said that the reports would also empower public servants to achieve more by breaking down old demarcations between professions, reaching out to the most excluded, including in the ways that the Prime Minister had outlined in his press conference last week in terms of developing new and specific approaches to those who had so far proved difficult to reach. They would also build new partnerships based on rights and responsibilities, whether that was climate change, public health or fostering respect in local communities, and Government could not and should not try to do it all on its own. The Prime Minister said that the vision at the heart of these reforms was to create self-standing institutions for public service, independent of centralised state control, that drew on the best of public, private and voluntary provision. They would also be free to develop in the way that they needed to, and accountable to the user through choice and with a flexible workforce able to innovate and change.

Asked if Cabinet would decide on anything today, the PMOS said that what had been happening so far was a series of seminars, including 18 Ministerial seminars on the review. What now was happening was that we were beginning to see the process of bringing the policy reviews together. Today was an opening discussion for Cabinet, and depending on the outcome of this morning’s discussions, there may be a further discussion next week as well. What people would begin to see this month was the publication of the policy reviews, so this was an evolving process.

Asked if when the reports were published, people would begin to also see the fruits of the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) as well, the PMOS replied that the CSR happened within its own right, and that would be part of it. The policy review process helped inform the CSR, but the CSR was a distinct element.

Asked why Cabinet was being held at Lancaster House and also, what was meant by the breakdown of the demarcation, the PMOS said that he would not give specifics in terms of the future content of the reviews, but for example, the changing role of nurses was such that nurses carried out minor operations in GP surgeries, which had not happened before. The PMOS said that as part of the agenda for change, there was a much more exciting and developing role for nurses than there used to be in the past. This could also be seen for ambulance crews as well. With regards to Lancaster House, the PMOS said that it had been used because not only did Cabinet want a change of air for this discussion, but also, the room was bigger, which suited the presentation better.

Asked how detailed the discussions were in terms of specific policy areas, the PMOS said that they were not just rhetoric. Rather they were working to the detail from an overall assessment of were Government policy had come to, and where it needed to go to. When people saw the policy reviews, they would see detail and concrete proposals. Today was about assessing how far the Government had come in terms of policy, and where the public were, and how we then began to match what happened in the future.

Put that the Prime Minister had said that he wanted policy direction from the whole process, and was that still the case, given that he would not be around for much of the actual policy implementation, the PMOS replied that this was not about a detailed "mini" Queen’s Speech. Rather, it was about setting an overall direction, whilst giving it concrete shape as well. This was not just words, but it was about things that people could actually see, and the direction they were going in.

Put that just as one Parliament could not bind the hands of another, didn’t the Prime Minister recognise that he too could not bind the hands of his successor, the PMOS said that this was not about that kind of issue. Rather, it was about shaping policy for the future and recognising where the public were coming from both with regards to what their expectations were, but also, what they wanted to see underlying how services were provided. The PMOS again referred to the underlying sense of fairness. That was a broad concept, but it worked its way out in terms of detailed policies. The PMOS asked: how could the carrot and stick elements of policy be combined whenever it came to issues such as parenting? Those were practical issues that had to be thought through. Therefore, the process of Government policy creation was one that evolved over time.

Asked if the Chancellor attended, and who else attended, the PMOS said that the Chancellor was there, along with Pat McFadden and Ed Miliband, the Cabinet Office Ministers who were especially involved with the policy review process.

Asked how would the decision be made in terms of future policy and how would it be enshrined, the PMOS said that these would come out as policy reviews, and policy reviews would inform the way in which departments and Ministers thought about shaping Government policies for the future. In terms of precisely how that then translated into actual policies, that was a matter for the future. This was about a clear sense of direction, and finding out what the public wanted.

Asked if the Prime Minister was happier now with the progress on the policy review, the PMOS replied that there had been 18 Ministerial seminars, and that suggested people were taking this very seriously. Mr. Page said that in a survey of the 60 people who had attended the seminar at No10 at the weekend, 9 out of 10 thought it was worthwhile because their thinking had evolved. The PMOS said that the most interesting aspect of the results from Saturday was seeing what people’s attitudes were when they began the discussion compared to at the end. This was about not only recognising the perplexity of the issues involved, but also, thinking the way thorough the perplexity. That was what had happened.

Briefing took place at 9:00 | Search for related news

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