Public service reforms 'restoring balance between state and citizen'

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The Government's public service reforms are helping to restore a proper balance to the relationship between state and citizen, William Waldegrave, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, claimed yesterday.

While use of the word 'restore' is a clue to Mr Waldegrave's acceptance of past and present imbalance, constitutional change is ruled out as a pursuit of the 'chattering' classes in Public Service and the Future: Reforming Britain's Bureaucracies, published by the Conservative Political Centre.

'When times are gloomy, people start writing clever new constitutions,' Mr Waldegrave says. 'Thank goodness, Britain's institutions have a low centre of gravity. But it is time for those who want to preserve the British way of doing things to fight back.'

In the pamphlet, Mr Waldegrave concentrates on the Government's 'five step' public service reform programme. That involved first, a 'fundamental reappraisal of the role of government itself; and secondly, 'after privatising all that we should', practical methods for preventing the remaining public sector reinfecting itself with inefficiency, insensitivity and waste.

The second objective was best met by compulsory competitive tendering and market testing, the precursors to contracting out, in local and central government, Mr Waldegrave writes. The third step was the extension of the 'purchaser/provider' split (such as that in the Government's NHS changes); the fourth was separating the civil service into smaller 'Next Step' agency units operating at arm's length from Whitehall. The fifth was the introduction of the Citizen's Charter.

Three of these have sufferent setbacks, however. The Treasury Solicitor's department and the Government's law officers have warned that the inferior pay and conditions usually offered when public services are contracted out can be illegal under EC law.

The Public Accounts Committee, the Commons watchdog on spending and efficiency, reported yesterday that there had been no obvious improvement in the first 'Next Steps' agency, the Vehicle Inspectorate, set up in August 1988. And a Cabinet Office survey, to be published by Mr Waldegrave today, reveals a high degree of public ignorance of the purpose of the Citizen's Charter.