Cameron’s public services white paper lacks strategy and direction

The open public services white paper has no big idea - its just a jumble of wonkish fads, writes Dexter Whitfield, director of the European Services Strategy Unit.

Professor Dexter Whitfield is the director of the European Services Strategy Unit, and Adjunct Associate Professor for the Australian Institute for Social Research, University of Adelaide

The Open Public Services White Paper has numerous flaws, the most overriding and fundamental one being that it is bereft of strategy. The document is designed like a shopping catalogue drawing on anything and everything that might be relevant to the modernisation of public services. It draws on virtually all of New Labour’s policies, plus coalition initiatives and proposals in the Localism Bill.

It lacks any understanding of how public services can be improved and transformed. ‘Top down’ is rejected for a ‘bottom up’ approach, and the division of services into individual, neighbourhood and commissioned beggars belief – particularly since all services will be commissioned.

The white paper is devoid of an analysis of the transaction costs of the proposals. There is little recognition that there is a financial crisis and recession; large sums of public money could be diverted into funding provider challenges and creating new organisations.

It is almost certain that ownership and competition will continue to dominate the public sector transformation agenda in Britain, resulting in continued failure to create the conditions for genuine and sustainable change.

The vagueness of how the proposals will be implemented creates an opportunity for concerted opposition. The white paper will spur on a collection of voluntary sector opportunists, carpet baggers, empowerment brokers and social enterprise agents.

The lack of strategy presents an important opportunity for national and local alliances of trade unions, community and civil society organisations to marginalise most of the proposals and to strengthen opposition to coalition policies.

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