There are areas where our public services excel. But the average is not what the fourth-largest economy in the world should have. There are schools with the same social intake and vastly different results. Hospitals that, with the same type of patients, perform well or perform badly.
The fault lies usually not with those working in them. In hospitals in particular, I often think the staff work flat out, but in a system that shrieks out for change: changes in working practices, changes in technology, changes in co-ordination between social services and the NHS, changes in the way we treat the patient as a customer.
But it isn't just a question of money. The systems need fundamental reform. The principles of reform are clear. 1. A national framework of standards and accountability. 2. Within that framework, devolution of power to the local level with the ability to innovate and develop new services in the hands of local leaders. 3. Better and more flexible rewards and conditions of employment for front line staff. 4. More choice for the pupil, patient or customer and the ability, if provision is poor, to have an alternative provider.
As for the involvement of the private sector, I have a sharp sense of déjà vu, in this, my eighth year as party leader. Wherever change is proposed, there is a familiar pattern. First, opponents of change construct an Aunt Sally grossly misrepresenting it; then a campaign is mounted against the Aunt Sally; then we defend ourselves; then those who created the Aunt Sally, ask us why we keep talking about it. Then after the change goes through, people wonder what the fuss was about.
So let us get a few things straight. Nobody is talking about privatising the NHS or schools. Nobody. Nobody has said the private sector is a panacea to sort out our public services. Nobody.
There are great examples of public service and poor examples. There are excellent private sector companies and poor ones. There are areas where the private sector has worked well; and areas where, as with the railways, clearly it hasn't.
Round the world and certainly in Europe, people are changing and reforming public services. Sometimes the private or voluntary sectors play a role; sometimes they don't. The key test is: improvement of the public service. We can argue about the new PFI hospitals or GP premises, the largest rebuilding programme in the NHS since the War. But the patients that will be treated in the new Bishop Auckland hospital or the new GP premises in West Cornforth in my constituency will be NHS patients treated in the NHS. Likewise, the pupils in the new City Academies will be state school pupils.
So where use of the private sector makes sense in the provision of a better public service, we will use it. Where it doesn't, we won't.
Be under no illusion. If we fail in this task, the Conservative Party stands ready with an alternative: let the public services wither; let those that can afford to, opt out; and let what remains be there for those that cannot afford to buy better. That's what reducing public spending to 35 per cent of GDP, as Mr Duncan Smith proposes, means. So my focus now, and the focus of the Government from top to bottom, is to deliver better public services for the people of this country.
It won't be easy. Expectations are high. The legacy of years of neglect and under-investment is strong. But my determination to deliver is absolute. And why? Because of the basic belief that has driven me all my political life; that everyone, every man, every woman, every child, deserves the chance to make the most of themselves within a strong and cohesive society. Public services, and the ethos of public service, are vital to making that happen. We are all in politics, or in public service, because we believe it can make a difference for the better.
Due to events in the US, the Prime Minister did not deliver his speech; copies were circulated to delegatesReuse content