Clarke willing to privatise drafting of Budget legislation

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Indy Politics
Kenneth Clarke plans to put out to tender the drafting of part of next year's Finance Bill, taking privatisation deeper into the heart of Whitehall.

The Chancellor also made clear yesterday that he expects growing numbers of Civil Service agencies to opt for private ownership and "the opportunity for growth" as private sector organisations.

In a speech portraying the Conservatives as the true modernisers of the machinery of government, he redefined the role of departments as "purchasers" of services from competing public and private suppliers - the model he introduced into the NHS, community care and to some extent education.

His most immediately dramatic announcement, however, in a speech to the European Policy Forum, was that he is giving "serious thought" to inviting independent barristers and City law firms to draft parts of next year's Budget-implementing Finance Bill.

After criticism that the speed and volume of modern legislation was producing poor law, Mr Clarke acknowledged that "Finance Bills are not regarded as a model of perfection by judges, practitioners or British businessmen and we must not be afraid to try to find new ways to improve them".

Government Bills have been drafted entirely by the 25-strong Parliamentary Counsel, but Mr Clarke, while saying his proposal would be a pilot, said: "Barristers with many years' experience in the courts of technical subjects could be better placed than generalists to cope with the highly specialist problems that arise in areas such as financial services, tax law or insolvency law".

His larger theme was the management transformation in Whitehall, where he said departments must increasingly act as purchasers, concentrating on quality and value rather than cost control. That put agencies on notice that departments "may look for other ways of providing the service for which it is responsible".

Many agencies provided services available in the public sector. Given the constraints on publicly owned bodies developing their business, there was every reason to encourage them to opt for private ownership.

Market testing, privatisation, contracting out and decentralised pay bargaining would produce a smaller civil service with a larger interchange with the private sector.