Five weeks ago The Independent on Sunday launched its latest series of Delivery Watch, committed to testing Tony Blair's promises to improve public services.
The Government's success or failure in making good its pledges could dictate Labour's success or failure at the polls. This is the issue that will define the next general election.
Half-way through its second term in office, Mr Blair's administration has raised spending on schools, hospitals, public transport, crime and policing to record levels. And it has pledged far-reaching reforms of key services.
But the questions remained. Was enough money going in after the increases in funding? Was it getting to the places it was most needed? Were voters getting value for money? Was reform, especially the involvement of private firms in the public sector, yielding improvements?
High-profile problems such as the political dispute over the introduction of foundation hospitals, the unresolved schools cash crisis, delays and disruption on rail services and rising levels of gun and other violent crime would suggest there was still much more to do. Yet ministers insisted that despite the problems, public services were getting better.
We spoke to four of Mr Blair's most prominent public service ministers - Alan Milburn, the Secretary of State for Health, Alistair Darling, the Secretary of State for Transport, Lord Falconer, the Home Office minister, and David Miliband, the schools standards minister. We asked them to defend the Government's record on delivery.
Service providers on the ground detailed the problems they faced - a headteacher, a hospital administrator, surgeons, rail bosses, youth workers and police.
And we sought the views of the people using the services they provided - school pupils, hospital patients, passengers, and young offenders. Most importantly, we asked you, our readers, to deliver your verdict on Britain's public services.
This week we went back to the people affected by change, actual and proposed, and to those who stand to gain or lose the most if the politicians fail to deliver: you.
The IoS panel says...
Last week Delivery Watch featured the work of Eric Noi, who runs the Rochdale Youth Inclusion Programme, near Manchester. He says things are happening too slowly.
"I'm a governor at a struggling secondary school. The problems are the result of previous governments' under-investment. The Government is doing the right things. But it needs to get the ball moving faster. I could do better in my job if some of the bureaucracy were removed. You can't sum up everything with targets.
I'm at the coalface of the working-class estates and something has to be done. It's worrying. These groups are totally disenfranchised."
Dr Samuel Fanous, a medieval historian at Oxford's Bodleian Library, is a rail user who believes the Government has failed to deliver.
"I've got a problem with my voice which stops me from lecturing. My experience of the health system is that it is very bureaucratic, inefficient, and treats its patients like items in a sausage factory. When I went to see the consultant he was running a morning and an afternoon clinic with no lunch. His stress levels were going through the roof. We need more investment at the grass roots.
The police are, on the whole, trying to do the best they can. Law and order, like education, is used as a political football. Surely we should have moved away from the A-level to a baccalaureate years ago.
I think this government will do anything to stay in power. If it is genuinely concerned to improve public services, why haven't we seen a difference?"
Sue Kirkham is the head of Walton High School, a comprehensive in Stafford. Last month she told Delivery Watch that education remains badly short of cash.
"Where we live there isn't much public transport. I do take the train for meetings in London. The service is quite good. But it is enormously expensive: £116 return.
I use the health service very little, but I do know that you have to wait quite a long time to see a GP where we live. Since we moved here we have been unable to register with a dentist, which is alarming.
The contacts I have had with the police as a head have been very good. But they have only a few officers for a very wide area.
I think all the public services are underfunded. I know the Government keeps saying they are putting money in but we don't seem to be seeing it.
Margaret Hadley spoke to Delivery Watch after being a patient at the Queen Elizabeth hospital in Birmingham. She found conditions there had improved, but is concerned at the way we are policed.
"I really feel very cross that the police don't respond as quickly as you'd expect. My son reported a suspicious incident and later found that an elderly woman had been burgled.When he contacted the police station again, they had no knowledge of it.
I have two grandsons, one taking A-levels, the other at university. It worries me about the loan system. When my kids were at university people paid what they could afford. I do agree with SATs.They're a good yardstick.
I did vote for Labour and probably will vote for them next time. I think they've had rather a bad press.
Matthew Atkin, 17, is a youth worker, DJ and neighbourhood warden on the troubled Langley estate in Middleton, near Rochdale.He told Delivery Watch that he would have ended up in jail without the Government's Youth Inclusion Programme.
"I left school last year. I wasn't the best boy, to be honest, but I don't think the teachers put things across very well and they gave up on you a bit. I had about five different maths teachers in just one year. If you can get one teacher for a while you get to know them and that makes it easier. We didn't have enough sport. Some years we didn't even have a football team. I know you get some posh schools where they do more exciting things."
For the past 20 years Chris Wright has campaigned for the restoration of the vanished rail line between Oxford and Cambridge. Last month Delivery Watch highlighted fresh cuts in services.
"Milton Keynes has grown yet the police force has stayed the same size.The Thames Valley force is one of the most stretched in the country.
The thing I don't like about the way the Government deals with the public services is that they bring in layers of bureaucracy rather than front-line delivery mechanisms.
When it comes to rail, they haven't addressed the escalating costs, really. They should at least nationalise Railtrack properly. And now they're cutting back services.Reuse content