Blair sets out stall on public services to regain authority

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Indy Politics

Tony Blair will admit today that the public will not tolerate Labour's decision to pump billions of pounds into public services unless they improve their performance.

The Prime Minister will acknowledge that his reforms will have to yield results for Labour to remain in power. He will say: "I know that if, having put in this extra money, we can't show clearly, demonstrably that the service has got radically better, then the consent from the public for investment is in jeopardy. That is why change is not about attacking public services but reforming them."

Addressing a Cabinet Office conference on public services, Mr Blair will call a truce between ministers and civil servants over who is to blame for a series of mistakes at the Home Office. "The most supericial way in which to conduct the debate about public services is whether public servants are to blame or politicians are to blame," he will say.

In a message to his internal Labour critics, Mr Blair stresses that he is passionate about reform because he believes in fairness, so that "patients whatever their wealth, pupils whatever their background, citizens whatever part of town they live in, get decent services delivered".

John Hutton, the Work and Pensions Secretary, will reflect the Blairites' desire for the reform programme to continue after the Prime Minister stands down by saying the next decade should see "an acceleration of change, not a retreat from it". He will tell the conference that the use of "alternative providers", whether in the private, public or voluntary sectors, should be "the norm, not the exception".

The Prime Minister's speech forms part of an attempt to restore his authority and regain the initiative after his Whitsun break was overshadowed by speculation about the future of his deputy John Prescott. Yesterday Mr Blair held a Downing Street summit on anti-social behaviour, an issue he has repeatedly used to switch the focus back to bread-and-butter issues when he is in danger of being seen as not "on the side" of ordinary people.

But the debate over Labour's deputy leadership refused to die down amid reports that Hilary Benn, the highly-regarded International Development Secretary, might enter thelist of candidates to succeed Mr Prescott.

As they returned to Westminster, Labour MPs expressed concern that the speculation about the future of Mr Prescott and Mr Blair was playing badly with the voters. Denis MacShane, the former Minister for Europe, said: "Labour ministers should be running the country not running for a non-existent vacancy. The corridors of Westminster are becoming comical alleys."

David Cameron will mark his six-month anniversary as Tory leader today by attacking Labour for scapegoating civil servants to cover its failures in government. He will also try to bury the perception that the Tories are hostile to public servants.

He will say: "Instead of using public servants as scapegoats we should acknowledge their successes. The truth is that public servants are privately dedicated to what they do. To them, it's not just work - it's their vocation. Often it's not just their job - it's their life."

The Tory leader will argue: "Too often these days, there seems to be an automatic and lazy assumption that you get terrible service in the public sector and fantastic service in the private sector."

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