HC Deb 30 March 1999 vol 328 cc859-70 3.30 pm
The Minister for the Cabinet Office (Dr. Jack Cunningham)

Madam Speaker, with permission, I should like to make a statement on the modernising government White Paper, which I am publishing today. Copies will be available in the Vote Office when I sit down. The White Paper sets out the Government's vision of public service into the next millennium. It provides new directions for change. It is also a clear statement that government must be responsive to the public and that policies and services must be shaped around people's needs.

Modernisation is a hallmark of this Government. We are reforming the welfare and criminal justice systems, rebuilding the national health service, raising standards in schools and restructuring our democratic and constitutional framework. To achieve those goals, we must also modernise the way in which government itself works. It is modernisation with a purpose: to make life better for people and for business, too.

The White Paper is based around five principles: first, policy that is forward looking and able to deliver outcomes that matter, and not simply short-term in its aims. Policy must tackle causes, not symptoms, and be measured by results, rather than activity. Policies must be designed around shared goals, not just organisational structures. Policy making must also reflect the needs of different groups—women, older people, ethnic minorities and people with disabilities among them. We want a wider input into policy making from those who deliver it and those who are affected by it.

New initiatives in the White Paper include the new Centre for Management and Policy Studies, identifying and spreading good practice in policy making; joint training for Ministers and officials in policy making; and a drive to remove unnecessary regulation and ensure that future regulations are necessary and proportionate. Where Departments are preparing policies that impose regulatory burdens, high-quality regulatory impact assessments must be submitted to Ministers and agreed by the Cabinet Office before decisions are taken.

The Government also intend, when parliamentary time allows, to increase the flexibility of the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994 to facilitate deregulatory action.

Secondly, public services should meet the needs of citizens, and not just at the convenience of the service providers. People are rightly impatient with ineffective and inconvenient services that stem simply from the way in which government is organised. They should not have to worry about what part of government they are dealing with. They want services that are joined up and responsive to their needs. People are used to private sector services being available when they want them. The Government are committed to delivering public services 24 hours a day, seven days a week, where there is demand.

The modernising government White Paper sets out action to reduce obstacles to joined-up working, commits government to working through local partnerships and one-stop shops to achieve those services and includes clear commitments to making common life episodes, which we all experience, less bureaucratic and less burdensome.

The third principle is that of delivering high-quality public services and not tolerating mediocrity. The Government are committed to ensuring that our public services are innovative, effective and efficient. Some of our public services are outstanding. Others simply are not good enough. We intend to bring them up to the level of the best and make sure that the best get even better. I emphasise that we are not prepared to tolerate mediocrity of the kind that we inherited from the previous Administration.

We are committed to quality and continuous improvement of services, and we will use competition to deliver improvement, but the Government will not make the mistake of rigidly preferring private sector delivery over public sector, or vice versa. Instead, we will review all central and local government department services and activities over the next five years to identify the best supplier in each case.

In addition, we will set up "learning labs", encouraging new ways of working by front-line staff by suspending rules and removing red tape that stifles innovation, and, as part of our focus on delivery, we will ask all permanent secretaries to ensure that their Departments have the capacity to drive through achievement of the key Government targets and to take personal responsibility for ensuring that that happens.

Fourthly, we will develop government for the information age. The Government intend that, within three years, people will be able electronically to look for work and be matched to job vacancies; submit tax returns and VAT returns; access health care advice through NHS Direct; apply for regional business support grants; be paid by government for goods and services, and notify different parts of government of details, such as change of address, through one transaction.

Looking ahead, we propose that 100 per cent. of dealings with government should be capable of electronic delivery by 2008. We will achieve that by developing a corporate information technology strategy for government, establishing frameworks across government on issues such as digital signatures, smart cards and websites.

Government must also serve those who feel excluded from developments in information technology. We will ensure that information age government increases the choice of how citizens and businesses receive services, and not restrict it. We must also address people's concern that information technology could lead to "big brother" government. Our belief is that data protection should be an objective of information age government, and not an obstacle to it.

Fifthly, the Government will value public service, not denigrate it. The public service must be the agent of the changes identified throughout the White Paper. We must make sure that it is properly equipped to rise to the challenge and properly rewarded for success. We will remove unnecessary bureaucracy which prevents public servants from experimenting, innovating and delivering a better product. We want staff at all levels to contribute to evaluating policies and services, and to put forward ideas about how they might be improved. We will explore the scope for financial rewards for staff who identify financial savings or service improvements.

The public service must also reflect the full diversity of society. At present, it does not. The White Paper therefore includes a range of measures—linked to tough new targets—to tackle the under-representation of women, people from ethnic minority groups and people with disabilities in the senior ranks of the public service.

The Government will develop a civil service for the 21st century. We will provide incentives for innovation and collaborative working. We will bring in more people from outside, open up recruitment, and create opportunities for able, younger staff to be promoted more quickly. We will bring together key players from across the public sector to exchange experience and work more closely together.

The White Paper is a programme for the whole of the public sector—local government, central Government, the health service—and we have worked closely with them all in developing it. We want to mobilise all the public sector's resources to achieve the outcomes that people want from government.

This not a single event; it is part of a process of change that we will manage, develop and improve over time. But we have set a clear direction for change over the years to come that will make our public services better than any anywhere else in the world. We will drive forward change by setting milestones to chart the course, by publishing the measures of success by which the programme can be judged and by reporting on its progress annually to Parliament.

In the White Paper, the Government have set out the most radical programme of public service reform for a generation, and I commend it to the House.

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire)

We welcome the publication of the White Paper, with its objective of improving the quality of public services. We look forward to debating the important issues in it, and we congratulate the Minister on not appearing on the "Today" programme to trail it. I have to tell him that I preferred the original title, "Better Government", to the one that he has chosen, "Modernising Government".

Does the Minister agree that the foundations of what he calls joined-up government were laid by his predecessors? City challenge, the single regeneration budget and Government offices for the regions—which were all opposed by Labour Members—were pioneered by my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine). In driving this concept forward, should the Minister not re-examine some of the initiatives launched since 1997? In our cities, we now have education action zones, employment zones, health action zones, crime and disorder partnerships and new deal for communities. Will those now be joined up?

Should we not consider other issues? For example, as we just heard in Question Time, there has been more money from the Department of Health for the national health service, which we welcome, but I know that Hampshire has had less money from the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions for social services. What people gain from the NHS swings, they lose on the social services roundabout. As the Minister patrols the frontiers between Departments, will he tackle these problems of conflict and confusion?

The Minister's statement raises important issues for Parliament. We vote money to Departments and we hold Ministers to account, but, as more money is pooled and spent collectively, the more difficult it is to stick to our historic approach to accountability. Has the Minister thought that through, and are there not issues for our Select Committees to consider? Does devolution not make the achievement of joined-up government more difficult? For example, disabled people need cash and care, but policy on cash is retained at Westminster, whereas policy for care has been devolved.

On the use of information technology, does the right hon. Gentleman acknowledge the risk of pinning his faith on large IT systems at the moment? All hon. Members have constituents caught up in the shambles of the immigration and nationality directorate at the Home Office, where people have to queue from 4 o'clock in the morning and which it is impossible to get through to by phone. Government there is not so much joined up, as clogged up. The Benefits Agency has had much publicised difficulties with the national insurance recording system. People have not received the right pension, and have been offered £10 compensation.

What the Minister has just outlined is larger than any system that has so far been successfully introduced. Will he approach it with a measure of caution? He recognised the need to deregulate, but there have been 2,000 new regulations since 1997, with schools receiving roughly one communication from education departments every day. Will he reassess that approach?

If the Government are to provide a more coherent approach to the services that the individual needs, how will the individual be identified? Will we all have a number? Are we moving towards ID cards, and how will civil liberties be protected?

What will be the cost and who will pay for the delivery of public services 24 hours a day, seven days a week? Does that pledge cover the whole of the United Kingdom? Will it be possible to retain a unified home civil service after devolution? Will Wales and Scotland end up with their own civil service? Does the White Paper stress the importance of a non-political, impartial civil service? Has not some injury been done to that concept since 1997 by the increase in special advisers, the establishment of a strategic communications unit and the decision to make the Prime Minister's private secretary and press secretary political appointments?

We welcome the Government's stated aims to improve government, to make it more accessible, more accountable and more cost-effective, but we shall watch the details and the implementation with some care.

Dr. Cunningham

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his general welcome for the White Paper. His tone and comments were in marked contrast to the buffoonery of some Conservative Members, and I also welcome that.

I shall try to deal with his important questions. We have not thrown away successes from the previous Government's policies. The White Paper acknowledges that there were some successes in this area under the previous Government, and we want to build on and retain them. I am pleased to put that on the record.

The right hon. Gentleman suggested that action zones should be "joined up". The whole purpose of health and education action zones is to join up local services so that they can deal with problems more comprehensively. Action zones are examples of joined-up government in action.

The right hon. Gentleman welcomed more money for the health service—in marked contrast to his right hon. Friend the shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, who opposed such action and described it as reckless. Again, there is a divergence of opinion in the shadow Cabinet on what investment in the health service is welcome and what is not.

There is no conflict and confusion in government. The White Paper covers all the activities of both central Government and local government. Sir Jeremy Beecham, leader of the Local Government Association, has been a working member of the Cabinet Committee preparing the work.

The "invest to save" budget is an example of precisely what the right hon. Gentleman asked us to do. It will target resources for new activities of this kind, in which more than one agency is involved, with the aim of providing services more efficiently. That applies to local government, Government agencies and Departments of State in Whitehall.

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that the proposals raise questions about accountability. We have asked the performance and innovation unit—[Interruption.] We have asked the performance and innovation unit to examine issues of accountability in one of its first studies, because, understandably, the House will want to know how it may be affected by the pooling of resources and the sharing of budgets. The right hon. Gentleman has raised an important point, notwithstanding the inane mutterings of his right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth).

Devolution means that elected Governments in Scotland and Wales will have to decide for themselves. Of course we hope that they will join us in many of our initiatives where that is appropriate, but the very fact of devolution will, in some cases, mean diversity and choice. That was recognised when we embarked on the major constitutional reform that has been so widely welcomed.

The right hon. Gentleman may not have heard me say that, precisely because we want to avoid the problems of large single information technology systems that he identified, we are developing a corporate strategy for the whole of government. Such a strategy did not exist under the last Administration; that was rather remiss of them. We intend to establish not a single mega-system. but different systems using nets to avoid the problems described by the right hon. Gentleman.

The right hon. Gentleman mentioned identity cards. As the White Paper makes clear, there will be no compulsion. If people choose to use smart cards to gain access to government services, that will be a matter for them, but it will be purely voluntary: no one will be compelled to have a smart card.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about making government services available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. People with web television sets will soon be able to fill in their self-assessment income tax forms at home, and send them to the Inland Revenue electronically. Businesses will be able to do the same with their value added tax returns. The idea that that is not a major advance for people and businesses in terms of convenience and efficiency is laughable: it is a major step forward, enabling people to fill up forms conveniently in their homes without all the paperwork that has dogged them in the past. I am sure that both individuals and businesses will welcome this development warmly.

The right hon. Gentleman asked me about the future of the civil service. Civil service unions have been closely involved in the work as it has developed. I see the general secretaries of the unions regularly. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office and other ministerial colleagues have been engaged in a wide-ranging series of workshops with front-line service providers in the public service, learning from them how we can improve the delivery of services. They have many good ideas about how that improvement might be achieved. None of the proposals threatens the future of a unified civil service; nor do we have any intention of doing so.

Dr. David Clark (South Shields)

I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement and wish him well in his efforts to ensure that the service that our citizens receive in the public sector is equal to the best that they experience in the private sphere. I remind him that, for most of our citizens, government means standing in queues and filling in unnecessary forms. Will he give an assurance that it is his objective to use the best information technology, including voluntary government smart cards, to ensure that unnecessary queueing and form filling are things of the past?

Dr. Cunningham

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for those comments. I also thank him because he was the one who embarked on the radical reforms; he set the work in train while he was working in the Cabinet Office. I was grateful to him for the work that I inherited.

My right hon. Friend is right: we want to take the hassle out of life for people. That is why we need to redesign the provision and delivery of government services for the convenience of those who use them, not of those who provide and work in them. Historically—under all Governments of all parties—that is the way in which public services have been organised: on a nine-to-five, five-day-a-week basis. The private sector has shown the way forward. We must learn from its advances and adopt them, where it is possible and appropriate, in the public services. That we shall do.

As for unnecessary form filling, my right hon. Friend is right about that, too. We have seen from lots of experiences and encounters how it is not only tiresome and time consuming, but distressing for people to have to fill out several forms about someone in the family who has a disability or is ill. When people are under stress, bureaucracy should be helping them and reducing the stress, not placing more burdens on them.

Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross)

I congratulate the Minister on giving us a joined-up statement, which perhaps is more easy to debate than to ask questions about, as, in some areas, it appears to point in different directions. For example, in respect of the attitudes towards public service, it still seems that the Government are in purchaser-provider mode, yet elsewhere we are told about the importance of the high duty of high-quality public service. Those things are not exactly contradictory, but they suggest that the Government are not quite as radical as they claim.

I want to ask a particular question on that score. Why have the Government not proposed a statutory basis for the civil service code of conduct to ensure that the impartiality and, indeed, ethical underpinnings that we look for are put in place by Parliament, and are not dependent on the prerogative powers on which they rest at present?

Dr. Cunningham

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his welcome for the White Paper. It is increasingly apparent that the people who use, need and depend on the services that we are talking about do not care so much about who the provider is; they care about the quality and accessibility of the services. That is why we have not been dogmatic about who the provider should be. The provider may be the public sector, the private sector or the voluntary sector. What matters is that people get easy access to the service when they need it, and that the service is of the quality that they are entitled to expect as local and national taxpayers. That is why we are determined to look at how services are provided, and to test them against the best available. If they are found wanting, we shall have to make changes, whether that means local or national Government decisions.

As for the independence of the civil service, there is nothing in the White Paper that threatens for a moment the long-standing, robust and continuing independence of the civil service.

Mr. Rhodri Morgan (Cardiff, West)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the White Paper shows the narrowness of thinking during the 18 years of the previous Administration? Although there were undoubtedly efficiency gains from the setting up of the next steps agencies, the price paid was narrowed departmental thinking; the chief executive of a next steps agency, on performance-related pay, looked after that agency, but lost sight of the big picture. The White Paper helps to restore the primacy of the interests of UK plc.

Is it necessary for the centre to be further strengthened? Will the reforms suggested in the report to the Prime Minister by Sir Richard Wilson, the Cabinet Secretary—which was never made public—have to be followed through to provide the technical and bureaucratic lead, to go with the ministerial lead, to drive the reforms through?

Dr. Cunningham

I agree that the narrowness of thinking—and. on occasion, meanness and cheapness masquerading as efficiency—of the previous Administration left so many of our public services starved of resources in terms of personnel and equipment. We have set about putting that right. I remind the House that we have invested £21 billion extra in the health service and £19 billion extra in education.

The reforms of the Cabinet Office are central to many of the White Paper proposals which we continue to drive through on the basis of the statement made to the House by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister last July.

Mr. Peter Brooke (Cities of London and Westminster)

Although I will give the Minister the benefit of the doubt—I will certainly read the White Paper—will he, in the interim, say whether he would be prepared to enter his statement in a national competition for a parody of management-speak? Will the new Centre for Management and Policy Studies teach Ministers how to prepare statements as well as to prepare policy?

Dr. Cunningham

I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman is so curmudgeonly in his response to the White Paper. He was a Minister for many years, and he knows very well that the Government of whom he was a member left our public services in pretty bad shape. We are doing something about that.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

In 38 days' time, on the morning of Friday 7 May, to whom will Mr. Muir Russell, currently permanent secretary at the Scottish Office, be ultimately responsible—the First Minister in Holyrood or the Prime Minister in 10 Downing street?

Dr. Cunningham

As a member of a unified, United Kingdom civil service, he will be responsible in the way that he always has been.

Mr. Andrew Welsh (Angus)

What is meant by joint training for Ministers and officials in policy making"? Does that mean that officials will be making policy? Should it read "the policy-making process"? With the greater availability of information technology must surely come greater confidentiality and security. What extra steps is the right hon. Gentleman taking to assure the individual about the security of the system that he proposes?

Dr. Cunningham

In the White Paper, we say that we must learn how to develop and implement policy better than Governments have been able to do in the past; that is a modest, but honest, thing to say. If we can do that by working together with the senior civil service, as is proposed, in the new Centre for Management and Policy Studies, we shall.

The hon. Gentleman's question seems to suggest that we already know all the answers to the questions of how to grapple with and solve the complex problems that we face. We do not know all the answers, and we need to develop policies more effectively than the record of failed policies shows us was done in the past. We cannot go back to making the same mistakes that were made then.

We will develop new systems of training and working together for Ministers and civil servants and, as the policies develop, we shall, of course, have to ensure that they are consistent with the Data Protection Acts.

Dr. Tony Wright (Cannock Chase)

One of the principles associated with the present Government is doing what works—contrary to the behaviour of the previous Government, who seemed to operate on the opposite principle. That means finding out what works, ensuring that we evaluate new programmes properly and then disseminating throughout the rest of the public sector information about what works. Will that not be one of the major tasks of the new performance and innovation unit?

Dr. Cunningham

I agree that we need to find out what works and develop policy accordingly. Another of the themes running through the White Paper is the dissemination of best practice, whether that be in local government or in central Government. As I said earlier, it could involve central and local government working together. One of the aims of the performance and innovation unit is to examine how we can do that more effectively, and I look forward to the first of its four reports, which will be available in the summer.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)

I thought that 1 April had come early, and we were being treated to a spoof White Paper. Among the clichéd gems that I made a note of are "vision of public service" and "new direction for change".

When the Secretary of State moves on from the "PlayStation Government" that he is offering us now, will he explain how he squares his claims about deregulation, which he repeated today for the umpteenth time, with the plethora of regulations that the Government have showered on the education and health services and on business since the day they came to office? Until he can explain that satisfactorily to the hapless recipients of the bureaucracy and the regulations, no one will believe a word that has been spoken this afternoon.

Dr. Cunningham

The right hon. Gentleman used clichés to complain about clichés. As for regulations, Labour Members believe in the national minimum wage—unlike the right hon. Gentleman and his right hon. and hon. Friends, who believe in poverty pay. We believe in necessary legislation to protect both people and the environment, and we shall go on legislating to fulfil our manifesto commitments. That is not inconsistent with taking tougher action and new powers, or with introducing new systems in government to ensure that the regulatory burdens are proportionate where necessary, and, where not necessary, are not imposed.

Dr. Lewis Moonie (Kirkcaldy)

Will my right hon. Friend tell us how many members of the senior civil service are drawn from ethnic minorities? What form will affirmative action take?

Dr. Cunningham

In the civil service as a whole, people from the ethnic minority communities are proportionately represented. However, as my hon. Friend suggests, they are not proportionately represented in the higher ranks and the better jobs in the civil service. In 1998, people from ethnic minority backgrounds held 1.6 per cent. of all posts in the senior civil service. We aim to increase that proportion—indeed, to double it—by the early part of the next century. We shall set a target for women in senior civil service posts too, for the same reasons. They, too, are hopelessly under-represented at the top of the civil service.

Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills)

Surely the right hon. Gentleman must appreciate that, if he employs high-flown management-speak, people will fear that he is concealing, rather than revealing. Much of the language of his statement simply was not the plain English that would have helped many of us.

The right hon. Gentleman did not say a great deal about the civil service. I have not, of course, read the White Paper, as it was not available until he stood up to speak. What plans are there to put the civil service code on a statutory basis? That theme ran through the previous Opposition, and the right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Mr. Maclennan) and the Foreign Secretary reached an agreement before the general election. Two years into this Parliament, however, we still have had no announcement.

Dr. Cunningham

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman does not like a modern management approach to reforming government. There was no attempt in my statement or in the White Paper to conceal anything from him or the House. On the contrary, I made sure that the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young) and the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) had a copy of the statement a full hour before I made it, and a copy of the White Paper. That was much better than the treatment that we used to receive when we were in opposition and some Tory Members were Ministers. I will take no criticism from anyone about concealing anything. The two Tory Front Benchers had more than enough time, and more than we were ever allowed, to study Government statements.

On the second part of the question put by the hon. Gentleman, we have no proposals yet.

Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington)

My hon. Friend proposes that 100 per cent. of government services should be capable of electronic delivery by 2008. That remarkable proposition will transform people's lives in ways that they currently find it difficult to understand. Can we go a stage further by considering the introduction of national identity cards, which would produce huge benefits to government in savings, the reduction of fraud and service delivery? Surely, only by introducing a national identity card can we fulfil the real ambition that my right hon. Friend has shown.

Dr. Cunningham

My hon. Friend is right. It is revolutionary to propose that all government services should be accessible using information technology systems. That is a target that we shall work towards, although it will not mean that everyone will have to use information technology to access services.

On my hon. Friend's second point about identity cards, I have made it clear that there is no proposal in the White Paper to introduce a compulsory card. These days, a great many people—probably the majority of the population—carry a whole series of cards that readily identify them. For that reason, some heat has gone out of the issue. We have no proposal to introduce compulsory identity cards.

Mr. Andrew Tyrie (Chichester)

May I share the views expressed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke) and my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) that the statement was packed full of jargon that is every bit as much of a barrier between the general public and whatever it is that the Government are trying to convey to them as Sir Humphrey Appleby-speak would be?

The statement listed as a new initiative the Centre for Management and Policy Studies. Was that not announced last July? It is not a new initiative at all. How many more initiatives announced today had been announced already?

Dr. Cunningham

The Centre for Management and Policy Studies is a new initiative. The first important decision has been made: Professor Ron Amman has been appointed to head the centre and will be in post from June. From then on, the centre will be fully established as quickly as possible.

Ms Tess Kingham (Gloucester)

I am pleased to see on page 60 of the White Paper a commitment to improving the system of public appointments. I recently participated in selecting chairs of NHS trusts under the current system, and found it desperately unsatisfactory—I understand that it was inherited from the previous Government. The system is opaque and shrouded in mystery. It places too much power in the hands of too few unelected people, and those who have not been selected do not know the results until the last minute. The current system is not a good way to recognise the hard work that many people put into many years of public service. Will my right hon. Friend improve the system and ensure that it is transparent and open? There must be a better way to reward public service and make it more accountable.

Dr. Cunningham

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. More than 100,000 people participate in public life through service on boards, trusts and advisory and executive bodies, so it is a big issue. We need to change significantly the system that we inherited from the previous Administration, and we propose to do that, as set out in the White Paper on page 60 under the heading "Public appointments". Today, my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office had discussions with representatives from all Departments to initiate those changes.

Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset)

Many of us who listened to the Minister's statement will have asked, "Where is the beef?" How will he improve on government? For a long time, I have criticised the time that it takes for Ministers to respond. Members of Parliament are most closely involved with Ministers, but it can still take more than three months to get a simple answer to a simple letter. What is the point of linking all Ministers to the internet if, in the latest edition of the list of Ministers' addresses, only four Ministries include the e-mail addresses of their Ministers, despite the fact that almost all Ministries can be contacted by e-mail?

Dr. Cunningham

The hon. Gentleman seems to be somewhat confused. The White Paper is not describing an event or announcing additional expenditure: it is describing a process of change which will have to be managed over a period of years. His first question demonstrates his lack of understanding of what we are trying to address and how we intend to change the situation.

I take the hon. Gentleman's second point more seriously, because he is right in saying that we need constantly to examine the performance of Departments and Government agencies. We shall do that. New standards were announced last July and I am reviewing that and tightening up the procedures. I agree that people, whether they are Members of Parliament or members of the public, should not have to wait months and months for a reply.

Mr. Peter Bradley (The Wrekin)

My right hon. Friend will agree that he need take no lessons from Opposition Members who, when in government for 18 years, seemed to know the cost of everything but, when it came to public service, the value of nothing. They contributed more than any other factor to the demoralisation of staff and the degradation of their services. My right hon. Friend took the opportunity in his statement to commend the potential of people working in the public service. How will he release the enormous potential and commitment of people in the public service? Will he recognise that, just as the dead hand of bureaucracy frustrates members of the public, it also frustrates public servants who know that, if they were able to exercise more discretion and flexibility in their work, they could provide a far better service to the public?

Dr. Cunningham

I agree with my hon. Friend. We have much to learn about using the talents, skills and knowledge of people in the public service more effectively than we have in the past. The new Centre for Management and Policy Studies is one way to ensure that people, through their training and skilling, will be as sharp and adept as the best private sector managers in managing large public expenditure budgets.

At the other end of the scale, we need to ensure that people in the front line of providing services get a much fuller opportunity to persuade their middle managers and, for that matter, Ministers, that they better understand how services can be made more accessible—or more user friendly, to use jargon that I know Conservative Members will hate—and how we can better serve the public.