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1991 - Mr Major’s Press Conference on the Citizen’s Charter

Below is the text of Mr Major’s press conference on the Citizen’s Charter, made in London on Monday 22nd July 1991.


PRIME MINISTER:

Can I say to you all at the outset that I am delighted to be here at the launch of the Citizens' Charter, I believe the charter is going to mark a new beginning for our public services, a new beginning that will produce better services, better tailored, more efficient and more effective for our citizens who use them. I will take whatever questions you have in a few moments but let me say a word or two before I take those questions about why I find myself personally so committed to this concept of a Citizens' Charter.

Twenty years ago I became a local councillor in Lambeth and I saw then the importance and the capacity of raising standards for local people. I still share those ambitions but now on a wider scale and I believe it is possible to raise the standard of public service for all our citizens and I want to make sure that people who are responsible for delivering the public services are properly answerable to the people who use those public services and those who pay for them.

I have spent a great deal of the last twenty years working with people in the public service so I know from first hand how much energy they have, how much enthusiasm and how much they too want to improve and increase the services that they provide for the public. I am sure that in the vast majority of cases they are as frustrated as the consumer is when the service falls short.

My aim then is quite simple, it is to raise the standard of the worst services to the standard of the best and then see whether we can improve the standard of the best. Each year, year after year, we spend more money on our public services and I want to make sure that we get the very best value we can for every pound that we spend, I want everyone to know precisely how to get the best out of the public services that we provide, not just those who are articulate, not just those who know their way round the system, I want top quality public services for everyone and that is the intention that lies at the heart of the Citizens' Charter.

In the Paper that we produced today - the Citizens' Charter - I said in the House there were well over 70 specific measures in the White Paper to raise standards throughout our public service. In practice I excluded many of the tiny ones and one can total a figure above 100 if one wishes to include many of the tiny improvements that are there. I do not propose to list them all, you will find a comprehensive list attached to the press statement that you have. But I do want briefly to highlight some of those that I believe are of particular importance.

Firstly, we have a whole package of new measures to raise standards in our school; secondly, and this does take me very directly back to my Lambeth days, we will be giving council tenants a better deal in future; thirdly, we will be introducing guaranteed maximum waiting times for certain National Health Service treatments; and fourthly, British Rail will be bringing forward a range of measures to improve their service, tell their passengers what is going on, and then compensate them when things go badly wrong.

Now those illustrations frankly just touch the surface of what is in the White Paper, many of you will have heard the statement I made in the House, others of you will no doubt by now have read the White Paper or read the press release with the comprehensive list attached to it, and I think you will see from that just how wide the Citizens' Charter approach ranges and how it is set to drive very deep into the very core of our public services.

I do not for one moment today pretend that I am offering an instant fix, cannot all be done immediately and as I made expressly clear earlier today is only the beginning, it will require a lot of grit and a lot of determination to carry these proposals into law and then see people's lives actually improve as a result of them. But we are determined to see that happen. In the 1980s we did have the grit and the determination to push through reforms that materially changed the face of this country for the better, we will now do precisely the same with the Citizens' Charter in the 1990s and I have no doubt that i t will have a very beneficial effect indeed for millions of our fellow citizens in the way in which they receive the public services that are provided.


QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

QUESTION (Eleanor Goodman):

[Inaudible].

PRIME MINISTER:

I think when you look at it just from the point of view of cost you are actually looking at it from the wrong end of the telescope and for this reason. If you look, for example, at page 38 - checking progress - you will actually see comparisons of performance between different areas of local and other government and it indicates very clearly when you see those comparisons how much improvement can actually be obtained within the resources that are already available. As to beyond that, some of these matters will require legislation and of course resources are always a matter that is discussed in the public expenditure round.

But this is not simply a question of saying here are these new things to do, therefore here is a new pot of money in order to do it. These are policies, some of which will be cost effective and cost efficient, and it is really a question of making sure these policies are carried out within the increasing resources that are there and thereafter if it seems that more money is required it is a matter for the public expenditure round.

QUESTION (Eleanor Goodman):

[Inaudible].

PRIME MINISTER:

It is a matter for the public expenditure round if necessary. But I draw you back to this Eleanor, have a look at the difference between the best and the worst and you will see how much extra should be achieved for the resources that are already there, the increase in public resources in recent years has been dramatic.

QUESTION (Robin Oakley, The Times):

You say that legislation is needed for quite a lot of the items in this list, can you say which are the priority items of legislation which we should look for in the next Queen's speech and on one point of detail, the Post Office monopoly, why are you only going close to the cost of the first class letter in ending the Post Office monopoly, why not go the whole way?

PRIME MINISTER:

We did consider that, we thought it better at least for the immediate future to go close to, so you may regard it as a step by step approach but for the moment we think the right way to deal with it is close to.

As for legislation, some of the legislation will undoubtedly appear in The Queen's Speech in November, there is more than one way of handling the legislation and I cannot tell you which way we will do it yet, it might for example be an Omnibus Bill or conceivably much of it will quite naturally and literally fall within the ambits of bills that are coming forward in any event and some of the changes relate only to secondary legislation and would be introduced by Order.

QUESTION:

You call this the "Citizens' Charter" not the "Consumer Charter" or the "Charter for Public Services". Could you tell us what you mean by "citizenship"?

PRIME MINISTER:

Anyone legally resident in this country.

QUESTION (Same Man):

But is there more to it than that? Is it simply another name for individuals who have rights through this or is there a broader vision?

PRIME MINISTER:

There is no hidden agenda under the word "Citizen". This is intended to deliver better value for the consumer of the services. The consumer of the services varies from one service to another but all of them, within the definition I gave you a moment ago, are citizens of this country and hence the name.

QUESTION (Adam Boulton, Sky News):

Prime Minister, by publishing this Citizens' Charter, are you effectively accepting that during the '80s the Labour Party took the public sector area by default and that now you can't deliver on the economy you have to take them on that ground as well?

PRIME MINISTER:

Expressly not! I don't think the Labour Party took anything in the 1980s - they certainly took no elections and they won't take any in the 1990s either.

In the 1990s, firstly if one may talk about the economy, the news of course that was perhaps slightly overshadowed today was firstly the increase in retail sales which many people have waited to see for some time and secondly, the fact that the balance of trade figures were actually in surplus. I hope both those points are clearly noted together with the fall in interest rates there has been, the fall in inflation there has been and the clear view of the G7 Heads of Government that the world would be coming out of recession in the second half of this year. I think all those indicators point in the right direction.

What we are seeking to do in terms of public services is take forward what has already been achieved. If you go back to the beginning of the 1980s, a large number of the public services were still in the public sector - all the public utilities were still in the public sector and receiving massive taxpayer subsidy whilst they remained there. They have been taken out of the public sector; they are now contributing to the Exchequer and not draining the Exchequer and they are providing a better service as well and they have regulators who, under the proposals I have announced today, will be able to monitor their performance and order compensation when their performance is inadequate, so I believe we are taking the reforms that we began in the 1980s to a further dimension.

QUESTION (Michael White, The Guardian):

Prime Minister, having read much of what you have published today, much of it seems admirable and idealistic - the sort of thing one might expect to read in some of our more ideological journals, perhaps "Marxism Today" or the "Sunday Telegraph" but one wonders in terms of practicality how much of this is as do-able as you seem to be suggesting and if I can ask a couple of illustrative questions:

If I were unlucky enough to need a hip replacement operation or a hernia operation and my local hospital couldn't do it and I went either to another hospital as you suggested or the private sector, who would end up paying for that operation, where would the money come from?

Secondly, my sister is a teacher; she is 49, she loves teaching but she says: "The Government has imposed so much paperwork on me in the last two years that I am thinking of getting out of teaching - I can't cope!" This Charter seems likely to impose more on my sister.

Thirdly, Whitehall Departments and their obligations to the citizen as a consumer seem to be largely absent from the document and I wonder if I were a soldier unlucky enough to have my legs blown off in Canada in an unfortunate accident, where do I stand today where I didn't stand yesterday?

PRIME MINISTER:

Let me take the first point of whether it is do-able. If I didn't think it was do-able, Michael, I wouldn't have put it in the Charter. We have looked very carefully; we have been quite ruthless in what we put in and what we have not put in. There were areas where there was a reluctance to proceed and we decided it was right to do so and we have done so; there were areas where it was difficult to see how we would carry things forward for the time being and we have excluded those matters from the Charter.

On the question of the hernia, which I trust you never have, if your own Health Authority are unable to do it within the guaranteed waiting time, they would look to see whether an adjacent Health Authority could do it; if they can't do it, they would go to the private sector for it to be done but it would be paid for by the public sector just as though you had been treated as a public sector patient in your own National Health Service hospital so it would be exactly the same; it would simply be that you would not have to wait beyond the guaranteed maximum time for your treatment.

On the subject of teaching, I am happy to accept not least because my wife was a teacher, the concern and dedication that many teachers have for teaching - I believe that is the case. And what is it those teachers most want? I think they most want to have a proper regime that ensures that they can teach children in a proper adequate way in the way that the parents of those children actually wish to see them taught. The reforms and changes that we have announced today will, I think, move us a step further towards achieving that. It does very heavily rest on seeking to meet the commitment that parents want in our schools for their children and I think it is entirely right that it should do that and that we should provide the information and the guarantees that we are providing in the education sector.

On the subject of Whitehall, you will have heard me say earlier today that progressively Crown immunities are disappearing; you will have heard me say also that we propose to be very careful indeed to ensure that those public sectors that fall directly under the control of Central Government deliver the best services as well, and if I may give you perhaps an illustration of that, the Benefits Agency which has been recently formed - the old Social Security Department has now been formed into an agency - is beginning to produce its own internal management reforms; it is becoming a more friendly consumer-oriented body; and it is certainly illustrating with name badges and elsewhere whom the customer is dealing with. So these changes are actually coming about. I think the question of Mr. Hicks, Mr. Ray and Mr. Povey is a separate one that I hope will be resolved soon.

QUESTION (Michael Brunson, ITN):

Prime Minister, could I just follow up, though, on your answer there to Michael White on the question of the lady's hernia?

You would confirm, would you not, that that is recycling of that existing Authority's money and that throughout the Charter there is nowhere, as it were, a fresh injection of money. I know what you said to Eleanor about public expenditure but isn't all of this dependent on the recycling of existing money and how therefore would you answer Mr. Kinnock's point that, for example, kids would benefit more from more money into school-building than some of the things you have done on school reports or truancy rates?

PRIME MINISTER:

Whenever Mr. Kinnock sees something, he reaches for your cheque book, Michael. There is a limit to how much that can do and there is a second obligation rather than just reaching for your cheque book and that is to make sure the money that has been extracted from your pocket already with compulsory taxation is actually spent wisely and well and it is self-evident that in some cases it is not spent to best effect and we can get a greater degree of service for the amount of money that is available and as I said, in here there are a clear number of illustrations of that.

Beyond that, we have set out the commitment of guaranteed waiting times; these are matters that will have to be looked at in the Public Expenditure Round to ensure that we have the resources available to do it but it is silly just to say: "Here is a little pot of gold to do something!" We have set out the principles and our determination to achieve those principles: that will guide policy.

QUESTION (Michael Brunson, ITN):

The charge at the moment is that trying to get these operations done out-of-area only has a very small amount of finance within the local authority - some 2 percent I think.

PRIME MINISTER:

Michael, in the health reforms that exist at the moment, in the case of GPs who are budget-holders, they can already send their patients actually beyond their own health area. There is a degree of recycling there already. This is a principle writ larger for people who reach the end of their guaranteed maximum waiting time when the local Health Authority are unable to meet their particular operation but those operations are important and they should be dealt with and there is capacity within the Health Service to deal with them, as we saw with the transfer of GP fund-holders. We are extending that wider so it is a fallacy just to look at this in terms of resources. You should be looking at it to ensure that we make full use of the resources that are already available.

QUESTION (The Independent):

Quite a bit of this involves publishing more information presumably on the basis that information is power so why did you duck going the whole way in providing a Information Act so that it is your citizens who can decide what information they have available and not you decide what information they should have?

PRIME MINISTER:

I would remind you, Nick, although I am sure you need no reminding, that it was this Government which did reform the Official Secrets Act, I think in 1988, maybe 1989, to remove large areas of information from the ambit of criminal law but this is a Charter for citizens, not for those who want to reduce ministerial accountability in the House and I think you have to look at this Charter and see what it is there for and you will see, therefore, that it does have the freedom of information provisions within its remit.

QUESTION:

A lot of the points here seem very basic. Isn't it long overdue?

PRIME MINISTER:

It may be long overdue but I daresay that many of the points are not basic. I think the proposals for contracting out, the proposals for privatisation, the proposals on education, the proposals on health, the proposals on the Post Office, the proposals in a vast range of other areas, particularly perhaps in the employment area, the right of an individual actually to seek an injunction against a wildcat strike - if those are very simple and very basic, then I am surprised. Some of them are very wide, very wide-ranging and in some cases revolutionary. I believe their time has come and we must now legislate to provide those authorities and those rights for individuals and I believe it will have a very substantial motivating effect upon the whole of the public sector and that is what we wish to see - the best possible public services for the people who pay for them.

QUESTION:

Will it win you the next election?

PRIME MINISTER:

We are going to win the next election anyway!