Reforming public services: the views of the main parties

Prabhakar, Rajiv (2010). Reforming public services: the views of the main parties. In: Griffiths, Simon and Hickson, Kevin eds. British Party Politics and Ideology after New Labour. Basingstoke: Palgrave-Macmillan, pp. 195–207.



This chapter examines the ideas of the main political parties in Britain towards the reform of public services. I suggest that a growing emphasis among Labour, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats is to organise public services more closely on the needs and wants of users. This is supposed to mark a shift from a model of public services dominated by the interests of producers to one shaped more by the interests of users. This informs initiatives such as "personalisation" and choice. This focus on users has consequences for how public services are delivered, with interest in encouraging a diverse range of providers of public services. I chart some of the main reasons for this change and outline some of the differences that are emerging between the parties on t his broad terrain. I consider some of the dilemmas that a focus on users is likely to provoke. ...

This chapter is organised as follows. First, I set out the main drivers of the reform of public services today. These include rising public expectations, rising costs and the impact of New Right, especially public choice, criticisms of the welfare state. Second, I examine how these challenges are feeding into strategies for reform among the main political parties. The combined effect of these challenges is leading politicians to place more weight on organising public services around the needs and wants of users. Third, I look at some of the consequences of this stance, examining how this is fuelling calls for the personalisation of services, as well as a need to encourage a diverse range of providers. Fourth, I highlight some of the differences that emerege within this broad territory, looking at the different stances adopted towards the freedoms of public servants and how far choice should be extended. Fifth, some of the key problems that a focus on users is likely to provoke are considered, including conflicts between users and producers as well as the possible impact upon equality. A conclusion briefly summarises the ground covered in this chapter.

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