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1994 - Mr Major’s Speech in Nizhniy Novgorod

Below is the text of Mr Major’s speech made in Nizhniy Novgorod on Wednesday 16th February 1994.


PRIME MINISTER:

MAKING THE INDIVIDUAL MATTER

Introduction

Over the past 15 years we have put many more public services into the private sector where they belonged. We did this because we believed that way they would be more efficient and more responsive. But we recognise also that many services rightly belong in the Public Sector and will remain there. The question we face is how to make them more efficient and responsive too.

My answer to that question is the Citizen's Charter. It's not a short term programme but a long term one. It's not a swift legislative change but a change of culture. So it takes time. But it is happening.

My ambition for transforming the relationship between the public services and the citizen remains, as I said in 1992: "To shift the balance of choice in society more radically than ever before into the hands of ordinary people". Too many people still feel helpless when faced with a State monopoly service and that must be changed.

The Citizen's Charter is not about bureaucracy. It is about people. It is about improving the quality of people's lives - individual people: it is about giving back to individuals their dignity and confidence. Individual members of the public: individual members of the public service. It is about people like you providing an excellent service to your customers.

That is why I am so pleased to be here this morning to present the 1994 Charter Mark Awards. Each of you here today has personally made a difference to people's lives. In many different ways.

And the greatest success of all is that the examples you set are inspiring the rest of the public sector.

Reinventing Government

The Citizen's Charter is at the heart of a much wider programme of reform. As I said in July, "its a big agenda, dwarfing any changes we've seen since the modern pattern of government was established". But the theme is always the same. Improving standards and services for people. Turning the public service leviathan into a trimmer leaner machine - and a machine that is in a real sense 'user-friendly'.

Over the past four years we have achieved much in making Government more responsive and raising the quality of public service. And now when people in the United States, Australia, Poland, Israel or Argentina want to learn about reinventing Government, they come to us.

They come to study how we're taking forward our privatisation programme. In 1979 nationalised industries cost the taxpayer £50m a week in losses. Now, those same industries as private companies pay £60m per week in taxes on their profits. And their users are getting a better service. And the pattern of improved efficiency and better customer service is repeated over and over again. Take telecommunications - the UK industry now leads in Europe and the world. And the service at home is dramatically better too: charges have fallen by 35% since privatisation and over 96% of 'phone boxes now work. Now we're tackling the more complicated public services, like the railways. The aim is the same. Better services for people who use them. No one, I think, could credibly argue that the success of BR since Nationalisation was such that it should remain unaltered.

And we're bringing competition into public services, through competitive tendering for local services, and through competition for Central Government work under our "Competing for Quality Programmes". These are delivering average savings to the taxpayer of 20%.

In health we have split the function of purchasing health care from providing healthcare - moving from a service too often driven by the providers to one driven by the needs of patients. And we are reaping the dividend. The basic principle of the NHS that we all share remains - a universal service available on the basis of need, not ability to pay. But now we have an NHS that treats 117 people today where it only treated 100 only a few years ago.

We are reshaping the relationship between the public and private sectors - private capital helping us to get more for our investment - in roads, in railways, in housing and hospitals. Better value for people.

We are taking an axe to red tape. The Deregulation Initiative is creating greater flexibility for business and wider choice for the consumer. We have identified over 800 measures to be simplified or thrown away. The new Deregulation Bill will help us axe many unnecessary regulations: lighter, better, more responsive Government.

We are devolving power in Government itself. Over 60% of civil servants now work in agencies and other Next Steps organisations. They focus on delivering a service. They control their own budgets. They have clear objectives. They are responsible for meeting them, and so are able to be more responsive to the needs of their customers.

This approach is being taken right through down to local level - grant maintained schools, freed from political control.

Fundholding GPs free to set their own local priorities. Local police forces given more flexibility. Power pushed out from the hub to the spokes of the wheel so we deliver better services on the ground.

Citizen's Charter - the ratchet for better services

Those people in other countries come here to learn all this. But most of all they come to see how we are making public services respond to people who use them. They come to see the whole enormous and ambitious programme of the Citizen's Charter which I set up 3 1/2 years ago. Its key principles are simple: published targets so people know what they are entitled to expect: proper consultation and complaints procedures - people who listen to what their customers tell them, then bend over backwards to try and give them what they need. And year after year - targets and performance pushed to higher levels.

Because many of the changes are small in themselves, not everyone has noticed them. Nor is the Charter - or the Chartermark winners' - yet given the credit by the public for the improvements. But the sum total of those small changes is now becoming clearer. We are achieving a real change in culture.

Let me give some examples. A few years ago it used to be hard or even impossible to tell how well our local schools and hospitals were doing compared with others. Now we can see how our child's school rates against others in exam results and truancy levels. We can also see how our local hospital compares with others in key areas like waiting times for general surgery. Performance tables tell us how organisations are doing, enabling us to make comparisons; to congratulate the achievers and to put pressure on the less good to improve. The purpose always is to improve the service and provide information to the user.

A few years ago people used to wait for hours in hospital outpatients not knowing when they might be seen. Now we get a timed appointment and won't have to wait more than 30 minutes. And hospital outpatient clinics are increasingly open on Saturday mornings or weekday evenings, recognising that patients' time is valuable as well as doctors!

A few years ago if you were a local authority tenant you used to have no say in how the estate was run. Your door was painted green and that was that. Now you can join with other tenants in taking over the management of your estate. You can expect repairs to be done on time and when you eventually leave you can receive cash payments for some of the improvements you made. And doors are painted red, white and blue, or even green if that is really what you want.

The Charter is not only about improving the big things in people's lives like education, health and housing. It is about improving services at every level. A couple of years ago when you took a driving test you never saw the form on which you were marked. Now you get a copy of the examiner's marking sheet. New mobile tax enquiry centres in the high street come to help you. The Inland Revenue South West Mobile Enquiry Centre helps around 700 people a month. Benefit Offices, Job Centres and many other Government offices have changed their opening hours to suit the customer. At every level, we have made it easier to get help.

Many of you here today can bear witness to the fundamental change in culture which is taking place. In the past customers were things shops had. Now the customer is the person you are helping on the other side of the counter. More and more, excellent public service provision is becoming the rule rather than the exception.

When I set up the Charter Mark Award programme, I had two aims: to show my real appreciation for those people who provide an excellent service to the public. They've always been there, but their dedication has not been recognised in the past as it should be.

Second I wanted to show the world what people in public service can achieve: provide examples for others to follow, a benchmark by which others can judge their own performances.

And that is what is happening. If the past experience of Charter Mark winners is anything to go by, next year you will, in addition to your usual customers, be helping other organisations learn about the right way to work. Some of you here today will have picked up new ideas in exactly the same way. So the process of improvement cascades and accelerates throughout the public sector.

So when people ask me what I consider to be the greatest achievement of the Citizens Charter, the answer is: it is making a real and practical difference to the lives of people at every level. It is above all helping those at the bottom of the ladder - giving them more support and better services.

New Announcements

And the Charter Mark initiative is not standing still. I want to announce today 3 new steps we will be taking to improve standards and reward excellence. They have a common purpose: to recognise the contribution of the individual - the individual citizen and the individual public servant; to encourage individual providers and customers to work more closely together; to produce still better services.

Thanks to the Charter many individuals do now get closely involved with their local services. They have the best knowledge of the organisations who serve them. They are in an excellent position to judge which organisations are doing well and deserve a Charter Mark. So, in future years individual customers will be able to nominate organisations for the award. If your school, your doctor or your hospital has improved, then tell us. If you, as a customer, think you're getting a first class service - tell us. Nominate the organisation responsible. It's good for them to know they are getting it right. And it's good for us to know.

Second, I recognise that the splendid service those of you here today deliver is the result of the combined efforts of many individual members of staff and customers. Combined efforts and combined ideas.

So I want to create a new award for successful staff suggestions. As you, Charter Mark winners, recognise, staff attitude and involvement are essential strengths of any successful organisation. You cannot provide a good service without good, motivated staff. Their experience and their ideas are crucial to building and sustaining quality. Next year's Charter Mark scheme will encourage you to give credit to these staff. And the award will recognise the best national staff suggestion.

Third, I intend to create a new annual award for the best customer suggestion that public service organisations have implemented. Many organisations already do this. London Transport Buses already advertise that: "if you don't like our bus routes tell us where to go". I want to encourage people to get in touch when they have good ideas. To be positive about services. To feel that their ideas will be welcomed and given a good hearing. I want them to feel involved. So I am happy today to announce a new award for the best customer suggestion which has led to an improvement in services - and so demonstrated what the Citizen's Charter is all about.

CONCLUSION

Finally I should like to congratulate everyone here on their achievement in winning a Charter Mark. I understand the hard work and commitment you have shown. Your customers deserve outstanding service. And you, deserve their thanks and our congratulations for showing us how outstanding service can be achieved.

There are still cynics about the Charter. Often they are people who haven't used the public services for years. But if the cynics still doubt, let them go and see for themselves. Let them talk to you and visit your organisations. Let them talk to those in Europe, America and wider who are copying us. Let them talk to those who use public services daily. We are not yet perfect. But we're improving.

For years no-one looked at the public sector fairly. The left praised it and defended it even when it was wrong. The right often disparaged it even when it was efficient. Now it can - increasingly - be judged on its merits. On the service it provides. And that is how it should be.