Monday, January 28, 2013

David Boyle's 'Barriers to Choice' report

I included a link to an article by David Boyle in my recent Six of the Best. In it David wrote about his review of choice in public services.

You can read the whole report for yourself as Barriers to Choice can be downloaded from the Cabinet Office website.

The report was the subject of a favourable editorial in this morning's Guardian:
The first thing to say about the Barriers to Choice study is that it doesn't feel like a government review at all. As an independent author, David Boyle is evidently not all steamed up about bringing in more private-sector players. He is also refreshingly level-headed about the benefits of providing patients and parents with ever more information: none of those Google-your-way-to-a-heart-transplant enthusiasms indulged in by Mr Cameron and Steve Hilton at their most tiggerish. But this very lack of Conservatism is what makes Mr Boyle's survey so interesting, because here may be the makings of a Lib Dem view of public-service reform.
Mark Pack is less enthusiastic:
The ideas in The Barriers To Choice Review are good. They are also – for want of a better wording – boring. Worthy but not the sort of stuff out of which you can fashion many leaflet headlines or news conference soundbites. 
In other words, it’s a great report for ideas about how to govern successfully. It’s far less useful at providing a guide to what the Liberal Democrats could say at future elections is its approach to improving public services. Electorally successful messages need to be found elsewhere.
This seems an odd reaction to me for two reasons.

First, though the Guardian says Barriers to Choice does not feel like a government review and surely means that as a compliment, it is a government report and it seems unreasonable to expect that a publication emerging from the Cabinet Office will read like an ALDC campaign guide.

Second, if even Dr Pack believes any document not written in text speak, Focus speak or platitudes about being fair to hard-working families is "boring", the fogeyish comments this blog sometimes ventures about the infantilisation of society are more justified than I realised.


Mark Pack said...

By "boring" I didn't mean the style in which it was written or presented (as official reports go, it's very readable in fact and that's a tribute to David).

Rather, what I tried to say was that the policies it suggests are lots of good detailed ideas rather than big headline grabbing concepts.

To make a parallel with education - it is big headline policies such as the Pupil Premium which political parties need to get public attention and support. We also know that there's lots of less glamorous detail which is important to performance (such as getting teachers together from different schools to share good ideas, something which seems to work well in London).

Having lots of the latter ideas is good for governing (if they're good ideas, of course).

Political parties however also need some of the former as those sorts of details don't get much interest or mileage from the public when it comes to choosing between parties.

Philww said...

I'm afraid I'm with Jonathan here. Surely the sequence should be, first define policy, then decide the headline-grabbing concepts that flow from it. Not the other way around.

If the policy cannot be made to grab headlines, that is an error of marketing, not a flaw in policy.

I can imagine for example that a policy of 'sensible measures that deliver the results people want without yet another dogma-inspired shake-up' could make a decent headline with a bit of work ...

Mark Pack said...

OK, I'll try one more time to be clearer :)

The report has lots of detailed, micro-type policies. Political parties also need bigger scale macro-type policies, as it's the latter that are most useful for manifestos, election campaigns etc.

You're right that sometimes the message "We understand how things work and are going to get stuck in fixing all the details" does sometimes work well in elections, but often it doesn't and when it does it's usually accompanied by some bigger scale stuff too.