The first 100 days – has David Cameron found his inner radical?

17 August 2015

On Saturday the Prime Minister emphasised the reforming zeal of the Government in its first 100 days. He highlighted the following areas of reform pressure: tackling the deficit, spending at 2 per cent of GDP on defence and 0.7 per cent of GDP on international aid, deep welfare reform, a 7-day week in the NHS and, with some fanfare, every school to be an academy and academies to come together in chains. Writing yesterday (£), Tim Shipman, Political Editor of the Sunday Times, argued that there is a new “radical” push within Government led by figures such as Camilla Cavendish. He said:

“With the autumn set to be dominated by the public spending review, the radicals see the shortage of cash for the police, prisons and councils in particular as an opportunity to think big. Michael Gove has been placed at justice because he is, as one Cameron intimate puts it, ‘the only one who can take the right-wing press with him’ to rethink the role of prisons.”

Reform was critical of the Coalition Government for a lack of coherence in its public service policies. It is only fair to say that there is greater coherence this time, in the sense that there is more reform energy in more places across government. The shift of emphasis towards NHS reform is exceptionally important and changes the whole dynamic. I am hugely looking forward to Jeremy Hunt’s speech at a Reform conference on 9 September.  Michael Gove has set a new tone in justice, as Tim Shipman says.  The emphasis on academy chains is the right way to develop that policy, according to a Reform paper published just before the Election.

The Prime Minister did not mention the themes of reform which the Government published with the Spending Review i.e. devolution and digital government. Devolution will be a big part of the story but it will take time for other areas to catch up with Manchester. Digital government is happening across the piece as Reform’s cyber security conference showed a month ago. The departures from the Government Digital Service last week show, however, that digital can’t just happen in and of itself, separate to public services. It has to change those services themselves. The sense from one outgoing GDS executive was that not every part is Whitehall is ready for that degree of change. Perhaps that is one reason why the Treasury included digital government in the Spending Review heads of terms.

The defining aim of the Government’s reforms should be better outcomes at greater value, building the wellbeing of the nation. For that reason another reform not mentioned by the Prime Minister is probably the most important of the first 100 days. Three weeks ago (£), it was reported that John Manzoni, the new chief executive of the Civil Service, is requiring departments to be much clearer about the outputs that they will achieve with their budgets. He wants that process to drive departments to work more closely together. I hope the debate at Reform’s annual conference on 15 October (details to be announced very soon) will contribute a great deal to this key effort. I am delighted that John Manzoni will be giving the keynote speech at that event.

Andrew Haldenby, Director, Reform

 

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