EDUCATION MARKET

Flaw in the approach to public service reform

Letter; The Financial Times

 Published: April 7 2008 03:00 | Last updated: April 7 2008 03:00

 From Mr Patrick Watson.

Sir, “Seller beware” (April 3), David Turner’s excellent analysis of the government’s failure to develop a sustainable market in children’s services, exposes a fundamental flaw in the government’s approach to public service reform. Ministers’ robust rhetoric is rarely followed through, leaving reforms incomplete and half-baked. Their intentions are good: opening up the supply side, while encouraging local authorities to become commissioners rather than providers of services. But then what? Yes, the government has issued guidance, stressing the importance of adopting an outcomes-based commissioning approach and ensuring a level playing field for bidders. But what happens when guidance is ignored, which appears to be happening in some cases? Very little. Guidance is not worth the paper it is written on unless those in breach of it are challenged and brought properly to account by officials. The government needs to offer carrots, while wielding a big stick with local authorities and quangos, who will seek to protect their current budgets and status. However, as things stand it remains extremely reluctant to intervene and manage the market to ensure consistency and fairness in local commissioning and procurement practice. But by failing to act it is undermining a central plank of its own public service supply-side reforms aimed at delivering more choice and demand-led responsiveness to end-users’ needs.

 Patrick Watson, Managing Director, Montrose Public Affairs Consultants, London SW8 3JX

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