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1992 - Mr Major’s Citizen’s Charter Speech at the Economist Conference

Below is the text of Mr Major’s speech at the Economist Conference on the Citizen’s Charter. The Conference on the Streamlining of the Public Sector was given on Monday 27th January 1992.


PRIME MINISTER:

Public Services on the Move: The Citizen’s Charter

Mr Chairman, four years ago, as Chief Secretary to the Treasury, I was the guardian of the public purse. I spoke then about the importance of high quality public services. Some people were surprised at such a speech from a Minister with responsibility for public expenditure. But it was right. And the fact that so many people running great enterprises, public and private, are here this morning shows that we are right to insist that people deserve better value for money and more accountable management standards in our public services.

The Citizen’s Charter is a blueprint to deliver higher standards. Some services - like the National Health Service and social security - cross the nation. Others are the prerogative of Town Halls and local authorities.

But wherever they may be, there is excuse for accepting second-rate performance. It’s economically wasteful. It’s socially unacceptable. And it’s a poor use of the many talented people who work in the public sector.

The Citizen’s Charter reflects a determination to improve public service. For me, that was not a new concept. It arose from experience - as a user of public services, as a provider of them in local Government, and, finally, as a Minister.

My views have not changed on substance over the years. Nor have my convictions. I believed then and I believe now that too often providers of public service fail to understand, or ignore, the interests and concerns of the public they are there to serve.

Let me give you an example. Too often the public are treated as if they were the lucky recipients of a free service. But they are not. They’re paying for it with their own money compulsorily taken from them in taxes. They are entitled to be treated as credit-worthy customers who've paid in advance.

Mr Chairman, the Citizen’s Charter came about because I was consistently receiving the same strong message. That it was high time to raise standards of performance in our public services. That was the demand of the consumer. And it was also the wish of those who work in the public sector themselves. They had the skills, the dedication, and the enthusiasm to do it. All they needed was the freedom and the encouragement to try out new ideas. The Citizen’s Charter gives them the chance.


Citizen’s Charter Principles

What the Charter does is to underline the need for:

- published standards

- consulting users and customers

- increased openness

- more and better information

- more and better choice

- greater accessibility and

- greater responsiveness when things go wrong.

These are things we want to see underpinning not some - but all of our public services.


The Charter’s Policy Measures

But our White Paper is more than a set of principles. It is an ambitious programme of action to raise the standard of service right across the public sector. It includes some huge commitments:

The privatisation of British Rail and British Coal. The deregulation and privatisation of London Buses. These will be priorities in the next Parliament. But the main thrust of the Charter is to empower the individual.

- So it includes also laws to let the public see league tables comparing the standards of service of their local authority with that of others.

- And, for the first time ever, reforms that will bring about the regular independent inspection of all Britain’s schools.

- It contains radical reforms which will limit the monopoly of the Post Office.

- It proposes new powers for citizens to challenge unlawful strikes in the public sector. When the next Parliament is formed they too will become law.

Last July I made it clear that a programme on this scale would take time to deliver. But we must deliver it - and we will. The Citizen’s Charter will be at the heart of this Government’s policy making throughout the 1990s.

Sometimes people find it hard to relate great policy ideas to everyday life. There is a tendency to be shy of new concepts. People were shy of privatisation. Yet they should remember privatisation has created a nation of shareholders and put telephone kiosks that work in every high street in Britain. Deregulation has opened up the motorways to long-distance coach travel.

But those benefits were not always seen at first. Indeed, they were bitterly resisted. It is always less trouble to stick to the status quo. But today those ideas are not only accepted, they are imitated right across the world. It will be the same with the Citizen’s Charter. There’s always resistance to good ideas. Wherever we find it, we will beat it. And I have no doubt that the ideas in the Charter will be imitated in other countries too. They are already catching the fancy of policy makers not least in the United States.

The Charter builds on and takes forward our privatisation and contracting out plans. The White Paper on Competing for Quality, will lead to more buying in of outside skills and a bigger role for the private sector. I want to see much more market testing in the years ahead. In central Government as well as in services outside. And. we are making the way easier for private firms to bid for business. Whitehall has been told to be open to their ideas.

But the Charter is not only about big policy developments. It also addresses directly some of the smaller things that cause so much irritation in everyday life. Again, an example makes the point. Take fixed appointment times for the man from the gas board or the electricity board. When we were working on the Charter we were told these were unthinkable. Fixed appointment times? Over the years consumers have learned to be grateful if they ever came? Were we mad? The public didn't want them, they said. The unions wouldn't like it. These latter day Mr Bumbles were shocked at the consumer demanding more. Whatever next Oliver? A proper service? Now, East Midlands Electricity has shown that it is perfectly possible to get the electricity man to call at a specific time of day, if that’s what the customer wants.

And take another frustration of everyday life: motorway cones. Sometimes one could be forgiven for believing they had taken over the roads and were marching on the towns.

So we listened and acted. As a result, £70 million worth of motorists’ time has already been saved by using lane rental. So we must do more of it. And there are other things we can do. A recent piece of work on the M1, with traditional methods, would have taken over 5 days to complete, and cost £25,000. Using rolling lane closure, the work was done in 3 hours and cost just £5,000. We are looking to the Department of Transport to press on fast with all the Citizen’s Charter’s new ideas for handling roadworks better.


Progress: Health

Then there’s the Charter’s influence on the Health Service: From this April, all hospitals will have to display publicly their local charter standards. From this April people will be given individual appointment times for out patient visits. No more turning up at 9 am and finding twenty other people there with the same appointment time. And from this April, there will be guaranteed maximum waiting times for hospital treatments. In Scotland there will be maximum waiting times for a number of specified operations. All this is spelt out in the Patient’s Charter which has gone to every home in the land. A better service. A more personal service. And more dignity, too.

The Health Service must hit the targets that the White Paper set. And then we must go further. I can tell you today that we are launching a new research study into why patients have to wait so long between referral by their GP and seeing a consultant. The time varies considerably. Why? I want to know. And when we know we must put it right. I want to see improvements made.

Changes like these take effort, commitment, skill, organisation. They mean a shift in approach on the part of a great many people up and down the NHS. Well, it’s happening. There’s a new mood of confidence in a Health Service that is responding to the challenges that the Citizen’s Charter has set. And there will be many more to come.


Education

Then consider education. In no area have the Charter’s proposals received wider public support. Parents now have a right to see governors’ annual reports, which include the exam results in their school. From July all parents will have the right to an annual report on their child’s progress; and, from this autumn, tables comparing the exam results of different schools will be published every year in the local paper. Next year, the comparative tables will include truancy figures and information on where pupils go when they leave school. National Curriculum test results will be published as soon as they become available.

You may be surprised that it was ever thought unsafe for parents and public to know this sort of thing. Well, I think I can tell you why. It was inconvenient to some of the providers. It might expose poor performance to the criticism it deserved. But poor performance should be exposed if we are to correct it.

It is those attitudes that the Citizen’s Charter is challenging. We are giving parents a greatly increased voice in their children’s education - a voice they should never have lost. And at the same time we are also letting employers, local business people and so on - see how effective their schools are.


Other Measures

There are other simple but necessary things we’re doing.

Public services are much more human if they come with a name to them. Anonymity can be intimidating. Very shortly 35,000 Employment service local office staff will be wearing name badges. And all other parts of the public service are doing the same.

We are going to provide more flexible opening hours in tax offices, Jobcentres, benefit offices and driving test centres. Flexible hours to provide a better service.

We are seeing standards set in areas where people said it couldn’t be done. For example, the Kent Police will answer all 999 calls within 10 seconds and will attend all incidents that require a rapid response in no more than 20 minutes - 10 minutes in towns.

We’re making radical changes in inspection. Not just by making sure that the standards are checked in every British school. But also by introducing outsiders - professionals, users, commonsense citizens - into other inspectorates as well. I believe it is quite wrong that professions - like police, social work, or probation - should be inspected only by the providers themselves. They must be subject to independent inspection - to reassure the public and encourage the best performance.

Other tough targets are being bettered. In 1989 it took some 3 1/2 weeks to get a passport. Now it takes just 7 days. Document processing used to take Companies House a month on average. Last financial year this figure was cut to just one week. Huge improvements in service, not dependent on extra resources. Just good management and a willing response from staff.

The list could go on.


Where Next

Mr Chairman, ten days ago, I brought a number of my colleagues together with senior officials to assess progress on the Charter. We agreed that we must develop some of the many new ideas that they put forward. And we decided to hold these top-level meetings regularly so that progress would be maintained.

Last Friday Michael Heseltine unveiled the Tenant’s Charter. This tells council tenants what they have a right to expect from their housing authorities. That they must be kept informed of any major changes that landlords propose to make to their homes or their estates; that they have a right to carry out improvements to their homes, or to swap their homes if they wish to move house to another area.

Today sees the launch of the Benefits Agency Charter. It lays out clearly the service that benefit claimants are entitled to expect. And it sets specific service standards for speed and accuracy of benefit delivery.

Other initiatives will follow, including, on Wednesday publication by the Customs of a charter for travellers.

People are being given information about services that no one has bothered to tell them before. For the future:

We want even more, and better information. There will be:

- a video which explains how the tax system works, so that those running small businesses can more easily manage their tax affairs;

- and a video about the way the courts work, to help those who come once in a lifetime as jurors or witnesses to understand what goes on and to find their way around.

- In Wales there is to be a code of good practice in planning cases for local authorities. League tables will be published so that, once more, we can put pressure on the worst authorities to catch up with the best.

- We will soon see a new Passenger’s Charter published. This will set out clearly the standards that British Rail’s passengers are entitled to expect, and make BR account for its performance against them. And it will also improve significantly the terms of compensation they should make available to passengers who suffer worst from train delays.

- And Charter’s principles should also help the businessman as citizen. He has to deal with many rules and regulations administered by local authorities. In some areas systems are being developed so that a business getting approval from one authority will know that it is valid for others. I want to see such systems, which are currently voluntary, extended more and more widely. Businesses simply cannot understand it when different authorities apply the same laws in different ways. It adds to business costs and detracts from competitiveness. Local authorities need to work with business in smoothing out difficulties that stop firms getting on with their main job - trading.

- Finally, we are going to make sure that rewards in the public sector are related to performance. Increasingly, peoples’ pay must be linked to giving high quality service. Doing a job of quality must be seen to matter more than doing a job. There will be strict, but fair criteria. But those who work well should earn more than those who don’t. I intend that performance pay should apply more widely in public service - not just in Whitehall, but on the underground and the railways as well.


The Charter Mark Award

I can also announce today a reward for excellence. It will be known as the Charter Mark award. It will be open to all public services that serve their customers direct. It will be challenging to achieve. In the first year some 50 Charter Marks will be awarded. Only the highest standards of performance will be considered. The winners will have to improve even more. Year on year improvement in the quality of their services. Customer satisfaction.

And they will have to submit plans for future improvements without cost to the taxpayer.

I hope many public sector services will apply for the Charter Mark. Not just the big ones. And not just the obvious ones. There are individual schools, hospitals, Agencies, and local authority services, which may not be well known nationally but which provide a service of which they can be proud. I want their efforts to be recognised. To be examples for others to follow.


Resources

Mr Chairman, it is the taxpayer who meets the cost of public service - good or bad. Poor public services do not come free, any more than good ones do. And they will cost more. They mean too much time wasted, too many complaints, paying twice over to put right the mistakes made first time round.

The best effective way to operate is to get things right first time. So let us hear no more of the phoney argument that you can only make things better by spending more money. Politeness. Keeping promises. Giving the right information. Answering letters promptly. These things don’t cost money. They are the everyday currency of decent services. And they must become universal.

Nor do I believe that people take a proper pride in their work if they are no more than a nameless face or an illegible squiggle at the foot of the letter. With the Citizen’s Charter, public service is taking pride in its work. It now showing it is ready to take responsibility. Ready to trust the public. It’s the beginning of the end of the faceless bureaucrat.


Charterline

I know all too well the frustration that ordinary people feel when they find themselves up against a blank wall of bureaucracy. Passed from pillar to post when they try to get an answer to a simple question, or a problem solved. So we will soon be publishing a paper setting out some ideas for helping people in a quick and simple way, when they get caught in the system. We will also introduce, at first on a pilot basis, a new telephone helpline - the “Charterline”. It will tell people about the Citizen’s Charter, the many different measures it contains and how they can pursue questions that they have in mind.


Conclusion

The Citizen’s Charter is only six months old. It is still in its infancy. But its effects are building up fast. And people in the public sector know that it is here to stay.

We will see to it that it works. Where we need to we will legislate. We will contract out when appropriate. We’ll toughen up inspection and further empower the regulators of public utilities where public choice is limited. We’ll set standards and publish results so that the success of every service can be measured and improved.

And will this all make it work? Yes, certainly it will. Because the Charter ideas are right. Because the public know they are right. Because people want to make it happen. Because hundreds of thousands of people in public service have a commitment to make it happen.

Already the Citizen’s Charter is changing public service. Step by step. But surely and certainly. More ideas will follow. With political impetus the process of change is now unstoppable.

And I promise - the impetus will be there.