Today Reform held a seminar under the Chatham House Rule with Sally Collier, Executive Director of Policy and Capability at the Efficiency and Reform Group. That is, the group within the Cabinet Office working under Francis Maude to drive better value in public spending.
The discussion raised specific thoughts about government procurement but really the most important points covered the future of competition in public services. The commitment of the Government to opening up public services is not in doubt. But that is not enough. Businesses, and investors into new businesses, need clarity about the shape of public services in future. The Government has yet to provide that.
A lot of hopes are resting on the Public Services Reform White Paper, due for January but now, it seems, not be published before May. David Cameron and other Ministers have pledged a total modernisation of public services achieved partly through much greater diversity of provision. But those new providers will only come in if they have certainty about the kinds of businesses that they can run. That certainly includes some certainty about the role of profit, which remains off the table in schooling and under attack in the NHS.
In its call for evidence, the Public Services White Paper focused on the technicalities such as the use of payment-by-results and personal budgets. Actually what businesses and investors need to hear is the bigger picture: what will be core activity managed by government, what will be outsourced, what should be contestable. A Paper of this kind would indeed kick start the revolution for which the Government hopes.