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Liberal Democrats

F16: Protecting Public Services and Making them work for You

Watch the whole debate below or click 'Playlist' on the left of the video to select individual speeches.

This motion and the accompanying policy paper substantially develop and update policies on the public services, with a particular focus on health, schools and transport. Cross-cutting policies include a right to request flexibility in the delivery of public services, a community trigger for change, and the development of Better Outcome Boards to promote integration between different services. In health, new policies include delivering parity of esteem between mental and physical health, development of Health and Wellbeing Boards with more elected councillors, and the ending of the role of the Competition and Markets Authority in the NHS. In education, new policies include proposals to improve professional development of teachers including the creation of a Royal College of Teachers, the introduction of an Education Standards Authority to take responsibility for the curriculum and a stronger role for local authorities in planning school places and making decisions over new schools. In
the field of transport new proposals include a two-thirds discount on buses for 16–21 year olds, allowing public sector bids for rail franchises and giving better compensation for poor service on the railways.

Existing policies on health are set out in conference motions Protecting Our NHS (2012) and Updating the NHS – Personal and Local (2011) and in the 2010 general election manifesto, Change That Works For You. The last comprehensive statement of health policy is in policy paper 84, Empowerment, Fairness and Quality in Health Care (2008)

Existing policies on schools are set out in policy motions Every Child Taught by an Excellent Teacher (2013), Getting the Most out of Schools (2012) and Free Schools and Academies (2010) and in the 2010 general election manifesto, Change That Works For You. The last comprehensive statement of schools policy is in policy paper 89, Equity and Excellence (2009).

Existing policies on transport are set out in conference motion Rail Franchises (2009) and policy paper 85, Fast Track Britain (2008) and in the 2010 general election manifesto, Change That Works For You.

F16: Protecting Public Services and Making them Work for You (Public Services Policy Paper)

(Passed with Amendments 1,2 & 3)

Conference believes that good quality, accessible public services play a vital role in helping us all to live fulfilling lives and supporting the most vulnerable, wherever we live.

Conference affirms Liberal Democrats' commitment to protecting public services, improving them, and ensuring they work more effectively for every user.

Conference believes that public services:

a) Should always aim to be high-quality, accessible, equally accessible to all, joined-up, empowering for their users, and locally accountable and transparent.

b) Cover an enormously diverse range of services, and that no one fixed model can suit them all.

c) Have their greatest asset in the staff who in difficult circumstances deliver good quality services to the public day in, day out, and that they work best when they are freed up to focus on providing a good service to their users.

d) Are most effective when they work with users as partners in their delivery, rather than simply as passive recipients.

e) Should be pro-active in seeking to prevent problems, as well as tackling them when they arise.

Conference therefore endorses policy paper 119, Protecting Public Services and Making Them Work for You, as a statement of Liberal Democrat policy on public services generally and especially schools, health and transport, and particularly welcomes its proposals to:

1. Realise the huge potential for services to work together more effectively for the benefit of users, not distracted by formal structural changes, through:

a) Enabling public authorities responsible for different public services in a local area, led by a democratically-accountable tier, to come together to form a local Better Outcomes Board, supported by financial incentives from central government, to share budgets and explore ways of working together to better meet the combined needs of local people.

b) Employing modern uses of information which have significant power to create innovative and improved services, but with the user controlling their own data and always having the opportunity to opt out of data-sharing; access to personal data must be strictly controlled; and where data is used for research purposes, it must be anonymized.

c) Applying Freedom of Information obligations to private providers of public services as well as to the public sector, and making contractual arrangements more transparent, including a presumption in favour of 'open book accounting' in contracts.

d) Investing in leadership, which is crucial to developing and improving public services, and helping services and users to benefit from a range of steps to promote movement over careers across different parts of public services, including combined cross-service leadership development.

e) Recognising that inspection regimes play an important part in ensuring accountability, but cannot themselves ensure good quality services, and must not be excessively burdensome.

2. Make services flexible enough to meet the specific needs of their individual users, through:

a) Giving individual users a formal right to request a specific flexibility in the service they receive, backed by mediation.

b) Where a sizeable proportion of users or the public for a private or other provider of a public service believe that the service is inadequate, providing for a 'community trigger for change', through which they could require the responsible authority to conduct a full review of who provides the service, and how.

c) All providers of public services, whether public, private or voluntary:

i) Being genuinely accountable to their users and the wider public.

ii) Meeting common standards in employment standards, data-sharing and equity of government funding.

iii) Respecting the values of public services including sharing best practice so that the general public can benefit.

iv) Being transparent and operating in good faith.

v) Not using abusive tax avoidance schemes.

And that where they meet this test, they should achieve the status of 'Accredited Public Service'.

d) Using measures or targets with extreme caution, in a way that is very limited and focussed on helping the public understand whether a good service is being delivered, rather than burdensome, excessively numerous and focussed on internal processes.

3. Encourage public services to become increasingly pro-active in helping improve lives, for example in preventing illness, as well as of course meeting existing current needs, by:

a) Fully involving staff in designing services, and having a strategy for involving users as partners in delivery of services.

b) Supporting users in mutual support arrangements, including through allowing them to share 'personal budgets'.

4. Apply these approaches to achieve improvements in schools, especially:

a) Recognizing the crucial importance of good quality teaching to educational attainment, by creating an Investing in Teaching package, including:

i) Supporting the creation of a Royal College of Teachers.

ii) Creating a Continuing Professional Development (CPD) entitlement for all teachers of 50 hours per year, as part of a robust CPD framework.

iii) Spreading established good models for leadership development and school-to-school improvement.

b) Ensuring every child is taught by a qualified teacher.

c) Continuing to ensure that there is no return to a split between academic and vocational qualifications at age 16.

d) Continuing the pupil premium which successfully targets £2.5 billion a year on the most disadvantaged children, and extending the early years premium.

e) Continuing to slim down the national curriculum, putting it under the responsibility of an independent Educational Standards Authority (ESA) and requiring all state-funded schools to teach the same core curriculum, a slimmed-down national curriculum, which should include sex and relationship education, religious education but not religious instruction, and balanced and non-partisan political education, as part of Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE).

f) Clarifying responsibility for improving poorly performing schools, including academies and free schools, with schools themselves, any academy chains or dioceses they are part of, and their local authorities, all responsible for improvement, and all inspected for this work by Ofsted.

g) Repealing the rule that all new schools must be free schools or academies.

h) Being clear that responsibility for planning schools places locally, and decisions about any new schools required and their organizational status, must lie with the democratically-accountable local authority.

i) Abolishing the new regional tier for oversight of schools, and ensuring local Headteacher Boards of successful local heads, accountable to their peers, provide assistance to schools in need.

j) Allowing local people, when they believe a school is consistently inadequate, to require the local authority to carry out a review of the school's management.

k) Schools continuing to set their admissions policy, and to ensure that every child has a fair chance and be treated equally, the local authority being responsible for admissions to all publicly-funded schools in their area.

5. Apply these approaches to improve the NHS, which must remain free at the point of delivery, by:

a) Committing to £1bn further real terms investment in the NHS each year until our fiscal mandate is met in 2017/18, followed by sustained real term increases in funding once the deficit has been  eradicated and debt is falling, paid for through an increase in dividend tax on additional rate taxpayers, a further tightening of the cap on pension tax relief and by scrapping the ‘shares for rights’ scheme introduced by the Conservatives.

b) Making the aspiration of 'parity of esteem' between mental and physical health a reality, through spreading good practice access standards for mental health services, supporting greater integration between mental and physical health, and moving towards equality of funding to reflect the respective health need.

c) Delivering better care by continuing to expand approaches to integrated care, building on the Pioneers scheme.

d) Reforming 'tariffs', to promote better care, particularly for people with long term conditions.

e) Ensuring easier access to GPs, through:

i) Expanding evening and weekend opening.

ii) More use of communication by modern technology when a face to face appointment is not necessary.

iii) Greater use of 'federations' of GP practices to provide better access to care, closer to home, including out of hours.

iv) Making full use of the potential of pharmacists.

v) Allowing you, if you wish to, to register with a GP near your work, instead of near your home.

f) Ending the role of the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) in health, making the rules clear that the needs of patients will always come ahead of competition, and that services need not be put out to tender if local people are happy with them.

g) While recognizing the value of increasing choice and enabling innovation in services, ensuring that duties on commissioners of health care give a higher priority to reducing inequality, and integration of services, than to promoting competition. 

h) Permitting NHS commissioners and providers in a local area to form a single integrated health organisation, responsible for managing the provision and integration of NHS services in that area, subject to public consultation, endorsement by local Health and Wellbeing Board(s), built-in arrangements for rigorous evaluation of effectiveness, and approval by Monitor and the Department of Health.

i) Continuing to develop Health and Wellbeing Boards, to comprise more elected councillors on a politically proportional basis and from all relevant tiers, and increasingly take on more responsibilities, including if they wish to for commissioning local GP services, and to be able to amend the commissioning plan of local commissioners.

j) Consulting on a legal duty to pool the whole health and social care budget in each local area; local commissioners should agree a joint Health and Wellbeing Strategy covering the expenditure of the full budget, although the details of how services would be commissioned would remain a matter for local areas.  

k) Encouraging the development of joined up health providers which cover hospital and community services, including GPs, learning from international best practice examples such as Accountable Care Organisations. 

l) Repealing any parts of the NHS Health and Social Care Act 2012 dealing with competition were they shown to make NHS services vulnerable to increased privatisation through international agreements on free markets in goods and services. 

6. Apply these approaches to achieve improvements in sustainable local public transport, which has a crucial role to play, especially in rural areas, in maintaining communities where people want to live and work, and in ensuring fair access to other public services and other opportunities, through:

a) Creating minimum standards for frequency and access for local public transport.

b) Giving public authorities greater influence over transport in their area, especially by supporting them to create 'Quality Contracts' which could help to achieve good services to meet the needs of local people.

c) Supporting small-scale voluntary or other organisations to be able to provide flexible, local transport services.

d) Ensuring all new significant infrastructure or vehicles meet standards for disability access, including audiovisual information.

e) Allowing public bodies to bid for rail franchises.

f) Getting refunds for delays or difficulties paid automatically for longer rail journeys, and providing better services and compensation when 'rail replacement' arrangements are required.

g) Extending 'smart ticketing', to give greater convenience for passengers, automatic lowest fares, and greater linkages across transport modes and with other public services.

h) Ensuring providers make realtime information on their services available electronically, as Transport for London does.

i) Giving a discount of two-thirds of the cost of buses to 16-21 year olds.


Applicability: England only, except 1 b) (lines 32-37), 1 d) and e) (lines 42-49), 2 (lines 50-72) and 3 a) (lines 76-77) which are Federal, and 3 b) (lines 78-79), 6 a) (lines 160-161) and 6 e) (line 170) which are England and Wales.

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