Citizens Charter (White Paper)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:30 pm on 25th November 1992.

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Photo of Mr William Waldegrave Mr William Waldegrave , Bristol West 3:30 pm, 25th November 1992

With permission, I should like to make a statement about the citizens charter.

The citizens charter White Paper, presented to the House in July 1991 by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, launched a radical and far-reaching programme of reform and improvement of public services. I am pleased to be able to report today that we are delivering that programme and now developing it still further.

The White Paper "Citizen's Charter First Report: 1992", published today—copies of which are available in the Vote Office—reports much more progress than I can list in this statement. Just 16 months into the 10-year programme, more than 90 per cent. of the 150 or so initial commitments in the citizens charter White Paper have been met or are in hand; and there is a substantial future agenda of more than 80 pledges of further action. This is a formidable record.

I would like to give the House one or two examples of what the charter is delivering. In health, we set maximum waiting times of two years for admission to hospital. That target is being met virtually everywhere. In England, in the year to March 1992, the number of people on waiting lists for more than two years had fallen from more than 51,000 to less than 1,700.

In education, the parents charter is providing parents with more information than ever before about their children's schools, starting with written reports and league tables of exam results, and going on to national curriculum results and truancy rates. We have set up the Office for Standards in Education to ensure that schools are regularly inspected, that parents receive inspectors' reports and that inspection teams include people from outside the education profession who can look at the school from the parent's point of view.

British Rail now publishes punctuality and reliability targets, and performance against them. There is compensation when those standards are not met. Privatisation will open up opportunities for competition and innovation, and will make best use of the railways for the benefit of its passengers.

On motorways, private developers are being encouraged, through relaxation of the regulations, to build more service areas to give drivers more choice and more competitive services.

Services are being improved to meet what users say that they want: driving tests available on Saturdays; evening sittings in some courts; tax inquiry centres to provide local point of contact for taxpayers; utility companies moving towards fixed appointment systems.

We have brought in legislation where necessary to meet our objectives—for example, the Education (Schools) Act 1992, and the Competition and Service (Utilities) Act 1992 —and we will continue to do so where there is need. For example, the Local Government Bill currently before the House will, if approved, give council tenants a new right to repair and a new right to improve and to get compensation if they improve their own homes and then move. It will also extend compulsory competitive tendering to improve local authority housing management.

Many of those standards of service are set out—often for the first time—in the 28 charters now published for users of the key areas of public service—for patients, parents, passengers, council house tenants, job-seekers, Benefits Agency claimants. The latest of these is the courts charter, announced today by my noble and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor.

Setting out the initial baseline of standards is therefore virtually complete for many of the main public services. This is part of the wider transformation of the way public services are run, moving away from the old command structures to more open, responsive management by clear and published contracts, which empower managers with the authority to run their organisations in the way that best suits the needs of those who actually use the service.

The emphasis will now shift to ensuring the delivery of standards and progressively improving them. We will do that in a number of ways. Performance-related pay is being introduced to make sure that good performance is recognised and poor performance identified. Many agency chief executives, for example, are on terms which include a performance-related element. Published information of performance against standards will be backed up by regular systematic surveys of the public's views of their public services.

Next, it is vital that public services be provided by the most competitive supplier—public or private—which offers the best quality of service and value for money for the user and the taxpayer. Wherever it is feasible and desirable, we will therefore continue to privatise services.

Where responsibility for services remains in-house, we shall market test them. I am pleased to announce today a fiftyfold increase in the targets set for the market testing of activities by central Government. In previous years, an average £25 million-worth of services were tested against the market. By next September, we plan to test services worth £1·5 billion.

We have made a formidable start on the objectives that we set ourselves, and the programme will continue to develop. The White Paper published today sets out a further extensive agenda of future action, including extending the patients charter into primary care; tightening targets from April 1993 to a maximum of 18 months for admission times to hospitals for treatment of hips, knees and cataracts; and publishing a further and higher education charter setting out for the first time the standards of service which students can expect when they attend university or college. Further action will also include updating and reissuing the parents charter later next year; setting new standards for British Rail; publishing of league tables so that people know how well their local authority is performing; and piloting a charterline telephone information service aimed to lead to a national service.

Good public services are essential for those who rely on them, and it is vital—never more so than today—that no money be wasted in their provision. The citizens charter programme of public service reform and improvement is at the heart of the Government's agenda for the 1990s. The White Paper will be a baseline from which to chart future progress. I commend it to the House.