Cabinet presses the reform button again - UK Politics - UK - The Independent

Cabinet presses the reform button again

Public services should be tailored to people's needs and decided at local level, under plans agreed in Downing Street

The Cabinet agreed yesterday to press ahead with a new round of reforms to public services as Gordon Brown tries to fight back after seeing off an attempted coup by Labour MPs.

A blueprint for economic recovery and "personalised" state-funded services tailored to people's needs, will be unveiled by the Prime Minister the week after next. "Building Britain's Future" will cover all areas of government, as Mr Brown answers critics who claim he has not offered a forward-looking "vision" two years after succeeding Tony Blair. The plan was discussed at a three-hour "political" meeting of the Cabinet yesterday – without civil servants present. One minister said: "The key is to go down the personalised route, giving greater access to education and health and tailoring this to individual needs.

"We are talking about real and radical reforms, but not boldness for its own sake, which would be stupid."

The Brown blueprint will "embed and advance" New Labour's reforms since 1997. One radical option being considered is to put core entitlements on a statutory footing while devolving as much other work as possible to local government.

The upside is that Labour would finally make good its repeated promises to decentralise power from Whitehall. It could also enable Labour to scale back its plethora of public service targets, which critics say distort priorities by forcing frontline staff to "tick boxes" rather than improve services.

The downside is that it would provoke criticism for creating a "postcode lottery", with different standards of services in different areas.

The document is expected to promise more apprenticeships and college places for school-leavers, a major housebuilding programme, extra investment in clean, green energy, and a new "innovation fund" to back the industries of the future. Mr Brown will argue that reforms are needed to ensure Britain emerges strongly from the recession, and extend opportunities to all. But the decision to embark on a new round of reforms less than a year before a general election will be greeted with scepticism by commentators who believe the big issue is how to cut public spending to balance the nation's books.

Labour's blueprint will draw a "dividing line" from the Tories by rejecting cuts in vital public investment and national infrastructure. A row between Labour and the Tories erupted this week as they accused each other of planning to cut most Whitehall budgets by 10 per cent.

There were also reports yesterday of tension between the Chancellor Alistair Darling and the Schools Secretary Ed Balls – who had hoped to succeed Mr Darling at the Treasury in last week's reshuffle. The tension was reported to be about how open Labour should be on the need to make savings. Mr Darling wants to acknowledge the need for a squeeze, while Mr Balls is itching to launch a full-scale assault on "Tory cuts".

Brown allies resent long-standing criticism by arch-Blairites that he is an obstacle to reform. After what No 10 described as a "very positive" cabinet meeting yesterday, the Prime Minister called in the Blairite Transport Secretary Lord Adonis for one-to-one talks on the reform agenda.

Plans to devolve power are being pushed by Blairite ministers including Liam Byrne, the new Chief Treasury Secretary. But some Labour insiders are sceptical.

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the RSA think-tank and Tony Blair's former head of policy in Downing Street, said: "Labour's reform plan won't be taken seriously, nor will it deserve to be, unless it involves a profound shift in the way policy is made at the centre. I would find it impossible to believe in any plan to decentralise power that did not commit to a substantial reduction in the number of government ministers."

He added: "There are far too many ministers, all of whom think it is their job to generate initiatives. Ideas are allowed to be developed and launched without any reference to those at the front line, change management and the time it takes is not treated seriously, there is complete lack of realism about how far the centre's intended messages actually reach."


After 12 years in power, a sudden rush of new reforms would raise the question: why on earth didn't Labour implement them before now? Time for legislation and implementation is running out because a general election must be held by 3 June 2010.


Reforms might improve savings in the long run but normally cost money in the short term. With the public finances facing a massive black hole, there seems little scope for "front-loading" spending. The pressure will be for spending cuts.


Trade unions contribute up to 90 per cent of Labour's funding at present. With Labour Party membership and big donations falling, the unions will try to use their muscle to block unpalatable changes – notably when the party draws up its election manifesto.


Labour MPs are in a fractious state after pulling back from a coup to topple Gordon Brown. They are set to win a delay over Lord Mandelson's plans to sell a 30 per cent stake in the Royal Mail and could rebel against other proposals.


Blairites Lord Adonis, Andy Burnham, Tessa Jowell, Ben Bradshaw and Liam Byrne were promoted in the reshuffle. But Brown and allies such as Ed Balls were never great fans of some of the market-based reforms on Tony Blair's agenda.

John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
peopleThe report and photo dedicated to the actress’s decolletage has, unsurprisingly, provoked anger
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
The programme sees four specialists creating what they believe are three perfect couples, based on scientific matchmaking. The couples will not meet until they walk down the aisle together
tvUK wedding show jilted
Arts and Entertainment
US pop diva Jennifer Lopez sang “Happy Birthday” to Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, president of Turkmenistan
musicCorporate gigs become key source of musicians' income
Arts and Entertainment
You've been framed: Henri Matisse's colourful cut-outs at Tate Modern
artWhat makes a smash-hit art show
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
Mikel Arteta pictured during Borussia Dortmund vs Arsenal
champions league
Yes supporters gather outside the Usher Hall, which is hosting a Night for Scotland in Edinburgh
voicesBen Judah: Is there a third option for England and Scotland that keeps everyone happy?
Arts and Entertainment
Pulp-fiction lover: Jarvis Cocker
booksJarvis Cocker on Richard Brautigan
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke and Pharell Williams in the video of the song, which has been accused of justifying rape
music...and he had 'almost no part' in writing it
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior QA Engineer - Agile, SCRUM

£35000 - £50000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior QA Engineer (Agil...

Marketing Executive - West Midlands - £28,000

£26000 - £28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Digital Marketing Executive (SEO, PP...

Retail Business Analyst

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our retail client ...

Senior C++ Developer

£400 - £450 Per Annum possibly more for the right candidate: Clearwater People...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week