Cameron to promise a new era of 'people power' for public services

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Indy Politics

David Cameron will today promise to sweep away Labour's performance targets for public services as he ushers in an era of “people power” in which consumers hold the people who run services to account.

The Prime Minister will announce that more providers of state-funded services will face competition from private firms and voluntary groups in order to give the public more choice and that more providers will be paid by results. He will promise a sea change to end Labour’s “top down” culture of monitoring local services from Whitehall.

However, the plan faces criticism from Labour because it could downgrade the role of independent inspectors like Ofsted, the schools inspectorate. It is bound to be seen as an attempt by ministers to evade responsibility for the deep spending cuts they are about to impose - a charge denied by Downing Street. Labour had begun to turn its key targets into “guarantees” and will argue that the looser regime of “milestones” planned by the coalition government will not safeguard services or give the public adequate redress.

Mr Cameron will insist that his “people power” approach will allow the coalition government to “square the circle” and improve services through reform at a time when departments other than health and international development face cuts averaging 25 per cent over four years.

Cameron aides say that the new approach to public services mark a big philosophical shift from the previous Labour regime. Some of the ideas are similar to those favoured by Tony Blair in his final two years in power, although Cameron allies insist he never implemented them. The “bottom up” approach could also mean big job cuts in Whitehall, helping ministers towards their goal of slimming it down by a third.

The Prime Minister will announce that Labour’s targets will be replaced by structural reform plans for each department, showing how they will implement the policies agreed by the Tories and Liberal Democrats in their coalition agreement in May. The first two, to be issued today, will cover those responsible for education and communities and local government.

Mr Cameron will say: “People are making a big mistake if they think this Government is just about sorting out the deficit. That’s not why I came into politics. It’s not what the coalition came together for. We came together to change our country for the better in every way. The best schools open to the poorest children. A first-class NHS there for everyone. Streets that are safe, families that are stable, communities that are strong. These ambitions haven’t died because the money is tight.

“The real question is: how can we achieve these aims when there is so little money? How can this circle be squared? The answer is reform – radical reform. We need to completely change the way this country is run.”

The Prime Minister will not criticise all of Labour’s decisions but will challenge its “top down, controlling,” techniques. He will say that Labour’s system” meant that almost everything was measured or judged against a set of targets and performance indicators, monitored, measured and inspected centrally.

“We intend to do things differently, very differently,” he will say. “We want to replace the old system of bureaucratic accountability with a new system of democratic accountability – accountability to the people, not the government machine. We want to turn government on its head, taking power away from Whitehall and putting it into the hands of people and communities. We want to give people the power to improve our country and public services, through transparency, local democratic control, competition and choice.”

Mr Cameron will say: “Instead of teachers thinking they have to impress the Department of Education, they have to impress local parents as they have a real choice over where to send their child. It really is a total change in the way our country is run. From closed systems to open markets. From bureaucracy to democracy. From big government to Big Society. From politician power to people power.”

Video: Cameron: Power to the people

Yesterday saw the first meeting of the Cabinet’s Social Justice Committee set up to tackle across government the worklessness, debt, addiction, family breakdown and failed education which results in deep-rooted, inter-generational poverty. Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary, who chairs the group, said: “In these straitened times, it is key that all our resources are directed towards helping those who need them most, and that we start to see a real social return on investment for every penny spent.”