Many of us will be familiar with the Thatcher reforms in public services during the 1980s and 1990s. A number of people we will all know would like to forget some of these changes! Whatever your view of these reforms, one issue is clear – public services changed.
Privatisation, market exposure, performance information, consumer choice were all central in the 18 years of Conservative rule. The UK shifted from a model of public services driven by the state and professionals to one which had consumers at the centre (or so the policy rhetoric told us).
New Labour continued many of these reforms. Now, with the death of Thatcher, we are left to reflect on the impact of thirty years of change in public services in Wales.
There are contrasting views on this issue. At one end, is the opinion that Thatcher was good for Wales. Entrepreneurship, new home and share owners are part of the positive story. At the other end of the spectrum is the view that she closed the coal mines, took on the trade unions, and her policies led to high unemployment.
Whatever your view here, one issue is clear. Some of our communities are not doing well. There are areas in Wales in which only a few people are employed. There is a high reliance on state support in a variety of forms. Life experiences are not as good as they could be despite all the efforts of many public and third sector organisations. The chances of dying younger are higher in some communities than in others. The geographical map shows that those in the poorest communities can have the worst access to public services.
It is tempting to focus on the welfare reforms which have recently been introduced and argue that they will make the situation worse. However, the challenge as always is to improve our public services so that they are delivered seamlessly to those in the greatest need. Lets focus on where we are now and make sure public services ‘join-up’ on the ground as well as in the boardroom. There is an even greater need for ‘collaborative’ public services to deliver properly to people who need them. Finding solutions to the ‘hard to resolve’ policy issues must be at the central to our activity.
With devolution, Wales has the opportunity to deliver the best.
Let’s make it work.