Modernising Government

1. Vision

1. Government matters. We all want it to deliver policies, programmes and services that will make us more healthy, more secure and better equipped to tackle the challenges we face. Government should improve the quality of our lives.

2. Modernisation is vital if government is to achieve that ambition. Government must face the challenge of the times, and embrace the opportunity it offers:

  • We live in an age when most of the old dogmas that haunted governments in the past have been swept away. We know now that better government is about much more than whether public spending should go up or down, or whether organisations should be nationalised or privatised. Now that we are not hidebound by the old ways of government we can find new and better ones.

  • Information technology is revolutionising our lives, including the way we work, the way we communicate and the way we learn. The information age offers huge scope for organising government activities in new, innovative and better ways and for making life easier for the public by providing public services in integrated, imaginative and more convenient forms like single gateways, the Internet and digital TV.

  • We must unleash the potential within the public service to drive our modernising agenda right across government. There is great enthusiasm and determination within the public service to tackle the problems which face society, to do the job better.

  • Distinctions between services delivered by the public and the private sector are breaking down in many areas, opening the way to new ideas, partnerships and opportunities for devising and delivering what the public wants.

3. Modernisation is a hallmark of the Government. We are rebuilding the National Health Service. We are raising standards in education. We are modernising our constitution and local government. We are reforming our welfare system so that it will truly and fairly address the needs of our society. We are tackling crime in new ways. We are modernising our defence capability and Armed Forces. We have a new, positive relationship with our partners in Europe.

4. But modernisation must not stop there. To achieve these goals we must modernise the way government itself works:

  • The way we devise our policies and programmes.

  • The way we deliver services to individual citizens and businesses.

  • The way we perform all the other functions of a modern government.

5. Modernisation, though, must be for a purpose: to create better government to make life better for people. Just as the Government is pursuing the aims of investment for reform and money for modernisation in the way it decides on spending programmes, so too must modernisation of government be a means to achieving better government better policy making, better responsiveness to what people want, better public services.

6. People want government which meets their needs, which is available when they need it, and which delivers results for them. People want effective government, both where it responds directly to their needs such as in healthcare, education and the social services and where it acts for society as a whole, such as protecting the environment, promoting public health and maintaining our prison and immigration services and defence capability.

7. To achieve that, the Government's strategy is one in which the keystones of its operations are inclusiveness and integration:

  • Inclusive: policies are forward looking, inclusive and fair.

  • Integrated: policies and programmes, local and national, tackle the issues facing society like crime, drugs, housing and the environment in a joined up way, regardless of the organisational structure of government.

8. The Government is putting these principles into practice by aiming to:

  • provide public services of the highest quality, matching the best anywhere in the world in their ability to innovate, share good ideas, control costs and above all to deliver what they are supposed to.

  • ensure that government is responsive to the user and is, from the public's point of view, seamless.

  • make certain that citizens and business will have choice about how and when to access government services whether from home via interactive TV, via call centres, via one-stop shops or, indeed, post offices, libraries, banks or supermarkets.

9. People are exercising choice and demanding higher quality. In the private sector, service standards and service delivery have improved as a result. People are now rightly demanding a better service not just from the private sector, but from the public sector too.

10. The Government is committed to public service. But that does not mean public services should stand still. Public servants must be the agents of the changes citizens and businesses want. We will build on the many strengths in the public sector to equip it with a culture of improvement, innovation and collaborative purpose. Public sector staff need to respond to these challenges, working in partnership to deliver this programme.

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London Borough of Enfield Housing Management.

Peterborough City Council Building Control Services.

11. Some parts of the public service are as efficient, dynamic and effective as anything in the private sector. But other parts are not. There are numerous reasons for this, and some are common to many governments around the world:

  • Organisation: because institutions tend to look after their own interests, public services can be organized too much around the structure of the providers rather than the users. This can be evident in their opening hours, their locations, the demands they make of citizens; the help they do and do not provide when they are needed; and the extent to which they link up with other service providers to offer services in packages that are relevant to people's lives.

  • Inertia: although the public can express its dissatisfaction with its public service through the ballot box, this can be a blunt instrument, removing whole local or central governments intermittently and often not addressing the underlying reasons why things are wrong. The risk is that particular parts of the public sector can therefore be left to fail for too long.

  • Inputs not outcomes: the system in Whitehall and elsewhere in particular the importance attached traditionally to the annual spending negotiations has meant that Ministers, Departments and units have often been forced to devote much of their effort to maximising their funding rather than considering what difference they can make in the form of actual results or outcomes.

  • Risk aversion: the cultures of Parliament, Ministers and the civil service create a situation in which the rewards for success are limited and penalties for failure can be severe. The system is too often risk averse. As a result, Ministers and public servants can be slow to take advantage of new opportunities.

  • Management: over the past 20 years, various management changes within the public service have improved value for money and quality in the way services are delivered by organisations. But too little attention has gone into making sure that policies, programmes and services across the board are devised and implemented in ways that best meet people's needs, where necessary by working across institutional boundaries.

  • Denigration: public servants are hard-working and dedicated and many are as innovative and entrepreneurial as anyone outside government. But they have been wrongly denigrated and demoralised for too long. There has been a presumption that the private sector is always best, and insufficient attention has been given to rewarding success in the public service and to equipping it with the skills required to develop and deliver strategic policies and services in modern and effective ways.

12. To help counter some of these difficulties, the Government is working in partnership partnership with the new, devolved ways of government in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and partnership with local authorities, other organisations, and other countries.

13. Devolution is a crucial part of the Government's modernisation programme. It is a stimulus to fresh thinking about the business of government. All parts of the United Kingdom stand to benefit from it. We are setting up three new devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. We will also, in time, move towards elected regional assemblies in England. This White Paper sets out commitments on behalf of the Government of the United Kingdom. We hope the devolved administrations will join us in taking the programme forward. We want to co-operate with them in areas which straddle our respective responsibilities.

14. Local government is responsible for a quarter of public expenditure on services, including education, social services, police, housing and public transport. We have worked very closely with the Local Government Association and other bodies in preparing this White Paper. Local government must be an equal partner in our drive to modernise government. We want to encourage initiatives to establish partnerships in delivering services, by all parts of government in ways that fit local circumstances; and to establish common targets, financial frameworks, IT links, management controls and accountability mechanisms that support such arrangements. We will continue to involve other groups too, including business and the voluntary sector.

15. We will continue to work closely with the public sector trade unions to achieve our shared goals of committed, fair, efficient and effective public services.

16. There is no such thing as a 'typical' citizen. People's needs and concerns differ: between women and men for example, between the young and the old; and between those of different social, cultural and educational backgrounds and people with disabilities. Some of these concerns have not been given sufficient recognition in the past. We must understand the needs of all people and respond to them. This, too, is a crucial part of modernising government.

17. We are exchanging ideas with other countries on policy making, on delivering services and on using information technology in new and innovative ways. We are learning from each other.

18. Modernising government means identifying, and defeating, the problems we face. It means freeing the public service so that it can build on its strengths to innovate and to rise to these challenges. It means raising all standards until they match the best within and outside the public service, and continue improving. It means transforming government, so that it is organised around what the public wants and needs, rather than around the needs or convenience of institutions.

19. This White Paper sets out our programme for modernising government. It does not pretend to have all the answers. This is a large project and we live in a fast-moving world. The Government is therefore presenting an agenda for progress. We explain what we think the current problems and challenges are, where we have made a start in tackling them, and how we plan to take our work forward in the future.

20. We are centring our programme on five key commitments:

  • Policy making: we will be forward looking in developing policies to deliver results that matter, not simply reacting to short-term pressures.

  • Responsive public services: we will deliver public services to meet the needs of citizens, not the convenience of service providers.

  • Quality public services: we will deliver efficient, high quality public services and will not tolerate mediocrity.

  • Information age government: we will use new technology to meet the needs of citizens and business, and not trail behind technological developments

  • Public service: we will value public service, not denigrate it.  

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Prepared 30 March 1999