So, Tony, on a scale of one to ten, how does your government rate?

STATE OF THE NATION
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The Independent Online
TONY BLAIR admitted it could take 10 years to "turn round" Britain's ailing National Health Service yesterday as he pleaded with the voters to give him more time to improve public services.

Unveiling the Government's second annual report on its performance, the Prime Minister said he shared voters' impatience that it was taking time to deliver election pledges to cut class sizes and hospital waiting lists.

"No one is more frustrated than me," Mr Blair said. "To turn round a big public service is a 10-year project and it will take time to do it. I understand the frustration that things aren't happening quickly enough for people."

He conceded: "There are still things where we have got to improve things and do better." But he insisted the Government was "on track" to deliver its promises.

The annual report claimed that, of Labour's 177 manifesto commitments, 90 have been met, 85 are under way and only two have yet to be timetabled.

In his introduction to the report, Mr Blair wrote: "Modernising the NHS will take years of hard work. Turning inner city comprehensives into centres of excellence demands patience as well as radical action.

"Reforming the complicated web of social security benefits will take time before its real impact will be felt."

The report's section on transport admitted the Government faced problems: "As people use their cars more and public transport less, the roads have become choked, businesses face huge extra costs, and our health and quality of life suffer," it said.

Jack Cunningham, the Cabinet Office Minister, denied the Government was "scared" of taking on the motorist. "I understand the frustration; we are going to improve the situation," he said.

Ministers said the 88-page annual report, which cost pounds 75,000 to produce, was a "candid, honest, factual account" of the Government's successes and failures, after criticism that last year's glossy pounds 96,000 publication was too triumphalist. However, few "warts" in the public services were laid bare in this year's version and Whitehall watchers said civil servants who drafted the report were hardly likely to criticise the performance of their political masters.

The Government faces pressure to allow an independent audit of its performance and the 600 targets set for Whitehall departments by the Treasury. Critics claim its internal monitoring system is little more than a public relations exercise.

Launching the report at Homerton Hospital in Hackney, east London, Mr Blair faced the wrath of an 82-year-old pensioner, Miriam Lewis , who repeatedly interrupted his question and answer session. She urged him to "hurry up" and make a difference to the lives of ordinary people battling with low pensions and hospital waiting lists. Mrs Lewis told the Prime Minister: "I get facts and figures from you. But appointments are still taking a long time." She said people "don't see" the extra money the Government had pumped into the NHS.

Mr Blair's hospital visit came under fire from Geoff Martin, the London convener of the public service union Unison, who said: "Instead of using our hospitals as a media opportunity, Tony Blair should be finding out just how grim things are for junior doctors, nurses and the rest of the health care team. This kind of stunt does nothing for NHS morale."

The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats rushed out their own alternative reports on the Government's record, arguing that it had failed to keep many of its promises.

The Tory report claimed that only one in four pledges had been kept. It said 33 had failed, 45 had been fudged and 54 had not been delivered. Of the 45 done, three quarters were damaging in their effect or were completely pointless.

Andrew Lansley, the Conservative Cabinet Office spokesman, said: "Labour is failing to deliver. Three out of four children are in rising class sizes. Total waiting lists, including those waiting to see a consultant, have gone up."

Nick Harvey, the Liberal Democrats' campaigns chief, said: "The annual report should be subject to independent scrutiny from the National Audit Office and debated by Parliament.

"A truly impartial report would focus more sharply on rising school class sizes, increased delays to get on hospital waiting lists, and the dramatic reduction in the number of police officers."

t The Government admitted a typographical error in the report, which features a page on how crime in Carmarthen is being cut. The document spells the Welsh town as "Carmarthon" three times.

Leading article,

Review, page 3

Economy: 8/10

Targets

1. Inflation target of 2.5 per cent with Bank of England setting interest rates; inflation rate and cost of borrowing at lowest in 30 years.

2. Government borrowing reduced so that public sector borrows only to invest.

3. Unemployment rate at 19-year low, some reduction in long-term joblessness. Aim is to reduce "structural" unemployment further through New Deal and welfare reform.

4. Improve productivity and competitiveness after many years lagging behind other advanced economies.

5. Foster entrepreneurship and investment to boost long-term growth rate.

Verdict

Gordon Brown got off to a flying start with his surprise announcement of operational independence for the Bank of England. His fiscal policies have also been tough, pleasing the City, and yet redistributive. The payoff to sound macroeconomic policies: the lowest mortgage rates since the late Sixties and the lowest unemployment since the late Seventies. The drawback is a strong pound, but this is largely beyond Mr Brown's control.

More difficult to achieve will be the Government's ambitions on the structure or supply side of the economy. Every government wants to boost entrepreneurship, but results are bound to be slow, and there is a danger in raising expectations too far. The Government also needs to own up to trade-offs, like the conflict between improving job protection and cutting red tape for business. So far it has been re-regulating, not de-regulating.

Diane Coyle

Crime: 7/10

Targets

1. Break the link between drugs and crime and set a range of targets to reduce abuse.

2. Reduce rising crime by 31 March 2002.

3. Introduce targets for ethnic recruits in police, fire, prison, probation and immigration services.

4. Promote new trust and confidence in the criminal justice system among ethnic minority officers.

5. Reduce the time it takes to deal with suspected criminals.

Verdict

Can the Government can deliver on breaking the link between drugs and crime? Target figures are absent from the report, possibly reflecting the widely held view that the programme is under-resourced and unlikely to meet the deadlines set.

While recorded crimes, particularly car theft and burglaries, have dropped, violence and sex offences continue to go up. The myriad of anti crime initiatives - more CCTV, legislation against "nightmare neighbours", and tough penalties for repeat burglars and rapists - is having a mixed reaction.

The race question is a tough one. There are no quick fixes to winning back confidence among ethnic minorities. Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, has grasped the nettle and made a good start.

There is encouraging progress to the pledge to reduce the time from arrest to sentence. Mr Straw has produced a hatful of initiatives, it is time for them to deliver.

Jason Bennetto

Education: 6/10

Targets

1. All children aged 5, 6 and 7 are taught in classes of 30 or fewer by 2001.

2. 5,000 schools to be repaired or rebuilt.

3. Proportion of 11-year-olds meeting literacy standards to rise from 63 per cent to 80 per cent by 2002.

4. Proportion of 16-year-olds achieving five or more GCSE A-C grades to rise from 45 per cent to 50 per cent by 2002.

5. Three-year-olds guaranteed a nursery place doubled to 66 per cent by 2002. All four-year-olds to be guaranteed a place.

Verdict

The Government describes education as its "first priority" and its commitment to spend an extra pounds 19bn over three years appears impressive. Its key manifesto pledge on infant class sizes will be met a year early in September 2000.

Average class sizes for pupils over eight have gone up and the cost of increasing free nursery places has been huge. The pledge for universal provision for three-year-olds disappeared in last year's report and no target has been set for England and Wales.

Paul Waugh

Health: 6/10

Targets

1. Reduce NHS in-patients waiting lists by 100,000 over the lifetime of the parliament.

2. Establish NHS Direct throughout England by December 2000.

3. Reduce death rate from heart disease and stroke-related illnesses among people aged under 75 by 40 per cent by 2010.

4. Get 17 new hospitals under construction.

5. Reduce the number of deaths caused by smokingand ban all tobacco advertising by 2006.

Verdict

The public health White Paper launched earlier this month has targets to improve the country's health by 2010 and save 300,000 lives over the next 10 years. But health experts say more money is needed for costly drug treatments, especially to prevent suicides.

Although the Government is keen to make health services faster and easier to use, doctors say their working conditions make a mockery of its pledge to modernise the NHS. Junior doctors are close to industrial action.

Cherry Norton

Families: 7/10

Targets

1. To increase nursery places for three-year-olds from 34 per cent to 66 per cent by 2002.

2. Reduce the backlog of council house repairs.

3. Reduce truancy by 2002.

4. Simplify the child maintenance support system so that by 2002 assessment is complete within 7 weeks.

5. New Parenting and Family Institute.

Verdict

Despite pounds 470m to increase good quality affordable child care, the situation for under-threes has not improved, since many nurseries will not take such young children. There are less than 40,000 state nursery places for the 1.8 million under-threes. The Government has a comprehensive family policy but because it crosses many different departments there is a danger that good initiatives will fall through the gaps and not be tackled by any department.

The Government's initiatives to get mothers back to work risks alienating women who choose to stay at home.

Cherry Norton

Transport: 4/10

Targets

1 Get rid of lead in petrol by the end of 1999.

2 Use tax and duty to encourage cleaner vehicles and fuels.

3 Find new money for rural buses, with a 1,500 new or expanded services.

4 Introduce a national public transport information system.

5 Cut back on road-building.

Verdict

The Government admits its promise to introduce an integrated transport system, could take some years to attain. The goal is vague, so it will be hard to establish whether and when it has been achieved. Everyone accepts that it is a long way off.

On environmentally friendly cars, the Tories granted tax breaks on unleaded petrol; the Chancellor has given the process an additional "tweak".

The provision of rural buses has been nudged and the roads programme refocused. The national information system seems to have slipped into 2000. Increased use of trains can be explained by the economic upturn rather than the attractiveness of the services.

Barrie Clement

Welfare: 8/10

Targets

1. By May 2002, to get 250,000 under 25-year-olds off benefit and into work by using money from the windfall tax.

2. To reduce the number of lone parents dependent on income support by 10 per cent by 2002.

3. To maintain or improve pensioner income as a percentage of average earnings.

4. To reduce benefit losses from fraud and error in income support and jobseeker's allowance by 30 per cent by March 2007, with at least a 10 per cent reduction by March 2002.

5. New 10p rate of income tax introduced.

Verdict

Although the "new deal" has been criticised for not providing real opportunity, it has replaced much worse schemes for tackling long-term unemployment. Since the scheme was introduced over 100,000 people have gone on to find work, but the jury is still out on whether or not it will make a difference to employment in the long term.

The difficulties of providing decent affordable childcare need to be tackled, along with income support, so that it is worthwhile for the estimated 900,000 lone parents who wish to work to do so. The Government has introduced a minimum income guarantee for pensioners of pounds 75 per week.

Cherry Norton

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