Frontline First for services

14 Jun 01
Frontline First is to be the Labour government's renewed watchword as it pursues its root-and-branch reform of the public services.

15 June 2001

The policy will be backed by the widespread use of Public Service Agreements to assess achievement, according to Chief Secretary to the Treasury Andrew Smith.

Smith, giving the opening speech at the CIPFA conference in Bournemouth on June 13, said the government would attempt to juggle its promise of greater autonomy, implicit in Frontline First, with the high level of monitoring that PSAs afford Whitehall.

As he spoke, Health Secretary Alan Milburn was preaching the same message in a speech to the British Association of Medical Managers in Liverpool. He promised to deliver on the commitment announced before the election to give GP-led primary care trusts control over three-quarters of NHS spending in England by 2004.

Smith said local PSAs would be rolled out over the next two years to all 150 upper-tier local authorities and will allow central government to set out clear performance and operation targets to identify failure quickly. Smith called the PSAs 'vital to delivering real improvements on the ground and one of our top priorities'.

After his speech, Smith told Public Finance: 'We want to harness the ideas, the energy and the innovation which is there in all the teams that work on the front line. As long as they're committed to achieving outcomes that are supported by their communities and in line with our national priorities, then they will have more freedom about how they actually achieve those goals.'

Smith said the government would devote itself to building public services around the consumer and raising minimum standards.

The reappointed minister told delegates: 'In this Parliament we want to transform the service the public receives. We are ready to deliver real change on the ground, with focused and empowered frontline staff, putting user interests first and delivering a wide range of services to a consistent high standard. The public's expectations have been raised. Now they will see the change we have promised,' he added.

The Treasury number two conceded that the electoral success of Dr Richard Taylor, who campaigned against the downgrading of a Kidderminster hospital and overturned a 7,000 Labour majority, was a motivating factor behind the new push: 'I would argue that the whole agenda of public service delivery and responsiveness to local communities is the right way of learning from and listening to what the people of Kidderminster have said.'

He added that Taylor's success had sent shock waves through the party. 'The first reaction in Whitehall might be to put a scarf over your eyes and hope that it isn't going to happen. A more sensible reaction would be for us to think very carefully about the dissatisfaction that gave rise to that particular mandate,' he added.


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