Ambulances are seen at the A&E department of St. Thomas' Hospital in London. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Labour will empower consumers in public as well as private sectors

The state can be made more responsive by giving citizens access to data, impartial advice and control over the services on which they depend.

The old model of politics where progress depended upon centralising the capacity to act - whether in the market or by top down state intervention - no longer works.


 The task of Labour’s Policy Review is help to change politics by devolving more power to people, giving them more control over their lives. That includes reforming how public services work. The traditional silo mentality, where different departments or services jealously guard resources, won’t work. Likewise, concerns about who provides a service - public, voluntary or private - don’t answer the questions around the role of the public themselves in the outcomes achieved.

Little has really changed in our ability to shape services directly around our own circumstances, despite the impact they have on our lives. As Ed Miliband has said, "I get as many people coming to me frustrated by the unresponsive state as the untamed market". Too often, p

atient choice is confined to options made by professionals. Limited access to personal care budgets and a lack of shared decision-making more generally means only a few get the flexibility and freedom to shape their own care.

One of the central themes of Labour’s Policy Review is how best to invest to prevent social problems in order to avoid the costs of failure. We know that reforming public services, and so improving interactions between service users and providers, is crucial to this ambition. 

As 

Ali McGovern, Liz Kendall, Steve Reed and Dan Jarvis have all argued, empowering citizens isn’t about disempowering public sector providers. Good decision-making thrives on early and continual feedback. Yet Which? report that many people don’t complain about poor public services because of fear of reprisal by providers. We can’t allow a situation where vulnerable social care users suffer in silence. Many providers already address this; from Unison’s work with personal care users and their members, or Worcester University, where patients interview applicants to be student nurses or healthcare assistants, and help deliver the training course itself.


Recently the government quietly included the public sector in its Consumer Rights Bill. This gives individuals the right to services performed with reasonable care and skill, at a reasonable price and within a reasonable time. So far the government admit this covers tuition fees, and use of childcare vouchers and personal care budgets. If a service doesn’t meet the required standard, students, parents and patients will be able to request a repeat performance, a price reduction or even a refund.
Those with the loudest voices or largest wallets will make good use of these powers; those without will be further excluded and their voices diminished.Without an alternative inclusive approach, sharp elbows will increasingly be the decisive factor at the sharp end of decisions about provision – with increasing inequality as a result.

Yet that doesn’t mean we should discount individual viewpoints. Instead we need to find ways to expand participation so both personal and collective interests can be heard together. Labour’s focus is on being on the side of every service user, seeking ways to empower all with the resources and confidence they need to act both independently and together if they so choose. To that end, we recognise that knowledge is power. Whether it is patient records, university syllabuses or school performance, we understand the benefits of unlocking access to data. More open flows of information to the public have the capacity to help create better-informed consumers who can then themselves make better-informed choices first time.



But access to data alone is not enough. Too often, those with complex needs or a lack of confidence struggle to sift through the information and make effective decisions. Users who ask for help need someone to answer the call - advocates who aren’t beholden to service providers. These advocates could assist in exercising rights and options for redress when things go wrong. 

In a study in Nottingham, 40 per cent of cases dealt with by advice agencies involved "preventable" failure caused by poor decision making in the public sector. Using advocates to provide advice and so improve how residents accessed services cut the average time taken to resolve cases from 100 days to 23 and then finally to just five. This saved time, money and tempers for all concerned.


This shows how the response users get is as important as their rights to information. We need to work with service providers to welcome user participation, and help create a culture where their expertise doesn't rest on making decisions for people, but working alongside them.
 This government will leave citizens to navigate services alone, leaving those without resources - either money or other skills - to struggle alone.

Labour’s Policy Review is looking at how we reform the public sector by devolving power to people, investing in prevention and incorporating cooperation and collaboration in the co-commissioning and design of services. Our mission is to stand shoulder to shoulder with every consumer - not blunting the efforts of those who already fight for the best services, but instead putting more power at the elbows of the rest for the collective benefit of all.

Stella Creasy is shadow minister for competition and consumer affairs, and MP for Walthamstow

Jon Cruddas is Labour policy review co-ordinator, and MP for Dagenham and Rainham

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After Strictly, I'd love to see Ed Balls start a new political party

My week, from babbling at Michael Gove to chatting Botox with Ed Balls and a trip to Stroke City.

If you want to see yourself as others see you, write a weekly column in a national newspaper, then steel yourself to read “below the line”. Under my last offering I read the following comment: “Don’t be angry, feel pity. Her father was a member of the European Parliament. Her older brother has been a member of parliament, a cabinet minister, a secretary of state, a historian, a mayor of London. Her younger brother is a member of parliament and minister for universities and science. She has a column in the Daily Mail. Can you imagine how she feels deep inside?” Before I slammed my laptop shut – the truth always hurts – my eye fell on this. “When is Rachel going to pose for Playboy seniors’ edition?” Who knew that Playboy did a seniors’ edition? This is the best compliment I’ve had all year!

 

Three parts of Michael Gove

Part one Bumped into Michael Gove the other day for the first time since I called him a “political psychopath” and “Westminster suicide bomber” in print. We had one of those classic English non-conversations. I babbled. Gove segued into an anecdote about waiting for a London train at Castle Cary in his trusty Boden navy jacket and being accosted by Johnnie Boden wearing the exact same one. I’m afraid that’s the punchline! Part two I’ve just had a courtesy call from the Cheltenham Literature Festival to inform me that Gove has been parachuted into my event. I’ve been booked in since June, and the panel is on modern manners. De mortuis nil nisi bonum, of course, but I do lie in bed imagining the questions I hope I might be asked at the Q&A session afterwards. Part three There has been what we might call a serious “infarction” of books about Brexit, serialised passim. I never thought I would write these words, but I’m feeling sorry for the chap. Gove gets such a pasting in the diaries of Sir Craig Oliver.

Still, I suppose Michael can have his own say, because he’s returning to the Times this week as a columnist. Part of me hopes he’ll “do a Sarah Vine”, as it’s known in the trade (ie, write a column spiced with intimate revelations). But I am braced for policy wonkery rather than the petty score-settling and invasions of his own family privacy that would be so much more entertaining.

 

I capture the castle

I’ve been at an event on foreign affairs called the Mount Stewart Conversations, co-hosted by BBC Northern Ireland and the National Trust. Before my departure for Belfast, I mentioned that I was going to the province to the much “misunderestimated” Jemima Goldsmith, the producer, and writer of this parish. I didn’t drop either the name of the house or the fact that Castlereagh, a former foreign secretary, used to live there, and that the desk that the Congress of Vienna was signed on is in the house, as I assumed in my snooty way that Ms Goldsmith wouldn’t have heard of either. “Oh, we used to have a house in Northern Ireland, Mount Stewart,” she said, when I said I was going there. “It used to belong to Mum.” That told me.

Anyway, it was a wonderful weekend, full of foreign policy and academic rock stars too numerous to mention. Plus, at the Stormont Hotel, the staff served porridge with double cream and Bushmills whiskey for breakfast; and the gardens at Mount Stewart were stupendous. A top performer was Jonathan Powell, Tony Blair’s former chief of staff, who runs his own conflict resolution charity. Powell negotiated the Good Friday Agreement and also has a very natty line in weekend casual wear. Jeremy Corbyn has said he wants a minister for peace, as well as party unity. Surely “Curly” Powell – a prince of peace if ever there was one – must be shoo-in for this gig.

PS: I was told that Derry/Londonderry is now known as “Stroke City”. I imagined stricken residents all being rushed to Casualty, before I worked it out.

 

On board with Balls

Isn’t Ed Balls bliss? From originating Twitter’s Ed Balls Day to becoming Strictly Come Dancing’s Ed Balls, he is adding hugely to the gaiety of the nation. I did the ITV show The Agenda with Tom Bradby this week, and as a fellow guest Balls was a non-stop stream of campery, charleston steps, Strictly gossip and girly questions about whether he should have a spray tan (no!), or Botox under his armpits to staunch the sweat (also no! If you block the armpits, it will only appear somewhere else!).

He is clever, fluent, kind, built like a s*** outhouse, and nice. I don’t care that his waltz looked as if his partner, Katya, was trying to move a double-doored Sub-Zero American fridge across a shiny floor. After Strictly I’d like to see him start a new party for all the socially liberal, fiscally conservative, pro-European millions of us who have been disenfranchised by Brexit and the Corbynisation of the Labour Party. In fact, I said this on air. If he doesn’t organise it, I will, and he sort of promised to be on board!

 

A shot in the dark

I was trying to think of something that would irritate New Statesman readers to end with. How about this: my husband is shooting every weekend between now and 2017. This weekend we are in Drynachan, the seat of Clan Campbell and the Thanes of Cawdor. I have been fielding calls from our host, a type-A American financier, about the transportation of shotguns on BA flights to Inverness – even though I don’t shoot and can’t stand the sport.

I was overheard droning on by Adrian Tinniswood, the author of the fashionable history of country houses The Long Weekend. He told me that the 11th Duke of Bedford kept four cars and eight chauffeurs to ferry revellers to his pile at Woburn. Guests were picked up in town by a chauffeur, accompanied by footmen. Luggage went in another car, also escorted by footmen, as it was not done to travel with your suitcase.

It’s beyond Downton! I must remember to tell mine host how real toffs do it. He might send a plane just for the guns.

Rachel Johnson is a columnist for the Mail on Sunday

This article first appeared in the 29 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, May’s new Tories