Public service choice is a left-wing concept, says Reid

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Indy Politics

Ministers are preparing to release proposals to give people more choice in public services as they mount a fightback after Labour's poor results in last Thursday's local and European elections.

Ministers are preparing to release proposals to give people more choice in public services as they mount a fightback after Labour's poor results in last Thursday's local and European elections.

A new round of reforms to deliver "personalised" public services for consumers will be the "big idea" in five-year plans for health, education, transport and the Home Office to be released in the next few weeks.

The drive will be launched this week by John Reid, the Secretary of State for Health, who will argue that "choice" is a left-wing, rather than a right-wing, concept. He will reject criticism by Labour advisers who believe that people are confused by "choice" and want good local hospitals and schools rather than the chance to shop around.

Mr Reid wants to create a key dividing line at the general election between Labour's offer of more choice to patients as to where they are treated - at NHS or private hospitals - and the Tories' plan to meet up to 60 per cent of the cost when people opt for private treatment through "patients' passports."

In an article to be published by the Policy Review journal, Mr Reid said the "left argument" for choice is that it already existed in health and education for those who could afford it. "A large chequebook not only buys you better provision but it also buys you the right to choose that provision," he said. "But most people are prevented from doing that by lack of wealth."

The Health Secretary cited Margaret Thatcher's comments, when she was Prime Minister, that she went private to be treated at the time, by the surgeon and at the hospital she wanted. "What she wanted for her family, I want to make available for every family - without them having to pay," he wrote.

Mr Reid admitted some critics argued working people were not "up to" choice , adding: "They appear to believe that there is something inherently left-wing in telling working people what to do. They are wrong."

The real left-wing argument should be about empowerment. But, he added, some critics wanted empowerment for everything except public services. "It would, quite frankly, be absurd for us to try to refuse to extend to the public services the benefits of consumerism that have been won by working people in many other aspects of their lives."

Mr Reid said such empowerment would also ensure that services were more likely to meet the needs of working people, retain their support and drive the improvement of services as people shop around.

Charles Clarke, the Secretary of State for Education, said the plans would ensure the Government continued "to improve the quality of public services so that everybody gets a better range of personal choice dealing with their own circumstances".

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