Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Clegg SMF Speech on Building the Enabling State

Nick has just set out his stall on public services to the Social Market Foundation.

Nick said that he wants the party to propagate a strategy for public services based on an enabling state, empowered citizens and a cultural shift from administrative targets to individual entitlements.

‘The great paradox of our times [is that] in our private and professional lives, we have never been more empowered. But in our relationship with the state, we have never been so powerless. And make no mistake; it is the poorest and the most vulnerable amongst us who lose out the most.The old model was about constructing the institutional hardware of the paternalistic state. The new model is about developing the democratic software of the empowered society.’

The speech made key proposals including:

· Allowing new providers to enter the school system, including parents, but ensuring that all schools are under local democratic oversight and that there are no further moves towards selection.
· A new Nursery Education Tax Credit so that all children can get the best start in life.
· The Pupil Premium so that more money is channelled through schools to the most disadvantaged children
· An entitlement based health system, with personalised, tailored services involving the active participation of services users.
· Elected Primary Care Trusts accountable to the public with the explicit task of agitating on behalf of patients.

I really agree with Nick on this idea that we are powerful consumers, but often powerless citizens. Getting our public services right is key and we need to have more imagination if we are to see any real or lasting improvements.

My personal view (which differs from both Nick and Chris) is that we cannot look at improvements based on so called efficiency savings, or local determination alone. We have to be honest about what sort of society we want to live in and what that might cost, not about being "tax and spend" or "don't tax and don't spend" and whilst I of course approve of localism, we need to be honest about its limitations and also clear about our party policies. If I vote Lib Dem in Southwark or Shillington I want to know I get a similar product.

I would also want to know more about what new providers in schools may look like. Yes parents may well want to set up their own schools, but I am not too clear about how that will create more of a level playing field, whereas the pupil premium clearly can contribute to improving the life chances of all our children.

Nevertheless, I am convinced that Nick's passion, commitment and conviction, will ensure that we will have a clearer voice when it comes to a Liberal Democrat approach to public services.

1 comment:

Bob Wootton said...

I am all for empowering the people.This was surely advocated by Stafford Beer in his books "Designing Freedom", "Platform for Change", and "Brain of the Firm" (see appendix in "Brain of the Firm") He also published a book "The Heart of the Matter" but I have not read that because I did not like the format. I could not get "my head round it"