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1991 - Mr Major’s Press Conference at Chequers Regarding Citizen’s Charter

Below is the text of Mr Major’s press conference at Chequers, following a summit held there earlier on in the day, on Monday 3rd June 1991.


PRIME MINISTER:

Very briefly, just to tell you what we have been doing at Chequers this morning.

We had a very lengthy meeting this morning with a large range of people across both the public and the private sector regulators, people representing consumer interests and a large number of people with special expertise to discuss one variety or another of ways of bringing the Citizens Charter to life and making sure that it has teeth and bite. The purpose of it is to improve the quality of public services that everyone enjoys. Everyone in the country at some stage is a passenger, a patient, a parent; they all have a very direct interest in making sure that we deliver high-quality public services.

What we have been looking at this morning is a series of ways to ensure there is proper accountability by the public service; a much better system so that there is more in it for the staff as well as the public; and that we can increasingly ensure that the public sectors that are delivered - often with the use of very large sums of public money - are delivered with the maximum efficiency.

It was a very worthwhile and useful seminar this morning. I perhaps should tell you how we now propose to carry it forward. The whole of Whitehall will be engaged in this exercise; a very substantial official committee is looking at details of it. Francis Maude, the Financial Secretary for the Treasury, will carry out a series of bilateral meetings with Ministers in every Department across Whitehall. Some time before the summer, we will publish a White Paper setting out detailed proposals which will include action points and thereafter we will bring those forward for legislation.

That is what we have been engaged on and I will be happy to take some questions on the Charter now.


QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, what about some specifics? What are you looking at specifically or is it still very much open-ended and in general areas?

PRIME MINISTER:

No. We have been looking at specifics. I am not going to enlarge on those specifics until we bring out the White Paper but the White Paper will specifically mention areas that we propose to deal with, how we propose to deal with them and set out the time-scale for doing so but I prefer to reserve what they are until we publish the White Paper - but they will cover a very wide range.

QUESTION:

[Inaudible] are you worried that perhaps some of the denationalised companies have been quite [inaudible] when it comes to [inaudible].

PRIME MINISTER:

No. We wanted to learn from the experience of what they have been doing and to build on that for the future - that was primarily why they were there.

QUESTION:

[Inaudible].

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, I think the private sector may well wish to take an interest; there are areas of the private sector, of course, that have their own charters; they may not call them that but they have their own quality and their own interest in service - Marks & Spencers, of course, are a case in point - and I would hope that the private sector would follow the lead that we propose to give in the public sector, most certainly, because the public are entitled to a good service from both the public sector and the private sector and we wish to ensure that they get it.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, will the Citizens Charter prove that the skids aren't under the Government, as some newspapers are saying?

PRIME MINISTER:

I am not concerned with what newspapers say - I am concerned with what we are proposing to do to improve public services and that is what we were discussing this morning; and it something that has concerned me for not just the last year or two but for very many years. I suppose the first time I indicated a clear concern with this was when I was the Housing Chairman at Lambeth and at that stage I took out on tour the Housing Advice Centre - myself as Chairman, the Planning Chairman, the Director of Housing, the Lettings Officer, people who had a very material impact on the life of people who lived in Lambeth - and it seemed to me to take them out to meet the public, to listen to their questions, to answer their questions and see how they could improve their service was the right way to proceed. This is a first cousin to that particular proposition.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, the Liberal Democrats say that you are a bit of a late-comer to this particular field and that they thought of this idea a long time ago.

PRIME MINISTER:

I have just indicated that I was actually in this field twenty years ago so I must say if they thought of it that long ago it is surprising they have not put rather more flesh on it than they have!

QUESTION:

A White Paper would imply that you are thinking long rather than short when it comes to an election.

PRIME MINISTER:

As for an election date, that will become clear in due course. We have more to do. I will announce the election when I am ready, but a White Paper certainly implies that there will be legislation to follow up this proposal - that would be correct.

QUESTION:

What would you say to those who say you should spend more time leading your Government from the front rather than holding seminars on the Citizens Charter?

PRIME MINISTER:

How is a government led from the front? It is led from the front by forming policy. What have we been doing this morning? Forming policy. Why have we been forming it? To improve public services. And for whom are we improving the public services? For the public. That seems to me to be precisely and absolutely the job of Government.

QUESTION:

But what do you say about the Whitehall Departments who have been dragging their feet on this?

PRIME MINISTER:

The "Whitehall Departments", as you put it, are not dragging their feet - they are all contributing to this particular exercise and I promise you they will continue to contribute to it.

QUESTION:

Mr. Major, when the Party Chairman gives a message saying "Keep your nerve!", doesn't that give the impression that maybe some are losing their nerve?

PRIME MINISTER:

I am certainly not and I think you will find that nobody in the Government is and nobody in the Conservative Party is and you will find, as you have seen over the last few days, there are a lot of policy proposals to come forward: you will find they are very innovative and I think people will find them attractive.

QUESTION:

[Inaudible, but regarding reported comments made by Mrs Thatcher].

PRIME MINISTER:

I gather she has denied them and I am perfectly happy to accept that denial - I am sure that is the case.

QUESTION:

[Same questioner, question inaudible].

PRIME MINISTER:

I must say you are extremely devious, Alistair!

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury, as I pointed out to you a moment or so ago, is in fact conducting bilaterals across the whole of Whitehall. It is a classic exercise to be coordinated by the Treasury - you will recall he is a Treasury Minister.

QUESTION:

[Inaudible].

PRIME MINISTER:

What we have proposed will be put in the White Paper with details; I am not going to trail any of it in advance. I think some of the things that will be there will be eye-catching when they come forward; I have no intention of trailing any of it in advance.

QUESTION:

[Inaudible].

PRIME MINISTER:

I would remind them of what they were saying very recently. There were lots of people saying two months or maybe two-and-a-half months ago "2 percent off interest rates is what we really need!" Over the last few weeks, we have had 3.5 percent off interest rates. That has not yet worked fully worked its way through to the market place - it does take a time. It is only just about to work its way through to a reduction in mortgages thereby increasing net spending power in the High Street. That has happened; it is a very significant reduction. As and when it is appropriate to make further reductions we will do so but I am not going to anticipate when that might be. But if you recall, just a few months ago we had inflation running at about 11 percent - it is now 6.4 percent and falling; we had interest rates at 15 percent - they are 11.5 percent and falling. I think that is a very substantial movement. I think that perhaps public opinion has not yet caught up with that because the impact of it has not yet hit the High Street - but it will!