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BBC TwoNewsnight
Last Updated: Wednesday, 13 September 2006, 11:27 GMT 12:27 UK
The Best Public Services in the World
The Best Public Services in the World

When Tony Blair addressed what he promises will be his last TUC conference this week, he clashed yet again with the unions over the thorny issue of the nature of public service reform.

As the Prime Minister turns his attention to shoring up his political legacy, how Britain delivers essential services will remain at the forefront of his agenda.

Over the last few months, Newsnight has been searching for the best public services in the world to see how we measure up and what we can learn. We invited guest reporters to argue the case for the most interesting, innovative and thought provoking examples of public service provision of healthcare, prisons, education and transport in the world.

Click here to join the debate at our forum


Watch Health

John Harris of the Guardian travelled to Cuba to examine a health system which, despite very obvious caveats with the way the country is run, has achieved extremely impressive healthcare indicators, primarily, as John discovered, by focusing on prevention and establishing doctor and nurse teams at the heart of the local community. Even if you've got a clean bill of health, your local GP will still pay you a visit once a year to check on your wider lifestyle and home environment.


Watch Transport

Probably the last place you'd expect to find a glowing example of public transport is a city in the most car dependent nation in the world. But as the Conservative Party Vice-Chairman and self confessed car-junkie, Sayeeda Warsi, reported from Portland, Oregon, the city has consistently bucked the national trend, increasing public transport use by 65% over the last 10 years and eradicating 62million car trips a year from its roads.

As Sayeeda reported, they've done it by putting public transport at the heart of community development, and by establishing Metro, America's only directly elected metropolitan planning authority.


Watch Education

James O'Shaughnessy from the centre-right think tank Policy Exchange, visited Qatar to examine its education reforms. He found a country undergoing an education revolution that's a free-marketeer's dream, characterised by school choice, autonomous head teachers, and competition between schools.

The Emir's vision is to create a new society, reliant not on finite natural resources. The reforms are unfolding across the country, but standards are rising and dramatic changes are taking place.


Watch Prisons

For the final film in the series we took Nick Pearce from the Institute for Public Policy Research to Denmark, where he visited a prison with a very different approach to punishment.

In Denmark, while they're tough on crime, the guiding principle is that life in prison should be as close as possible to normal life, so prisoners have a daily routine of work and education. And, as Nick found, it works. Denmark imprisons 77 people out of every hundred thousand - in Britain, it's double that rate.

Re-offending rates are impressive - in Denmark a third of prisoners re-offend within two years, while in Britain it's two thirds.


In order to debate Britain's public services in the light of the foreign examples provided by our films, we invited a group of experts, academics and front-line public service employees to join Jeremy for a seminar.

Among those who came to explore what we could learn were the Superhead, William Atkinson; the journalist and victims campaigner Roger Cook; the former rail regulator Tom Windsor; and Hilary Cottam, designer of the year for her work on schools, hospitals and prisons.

This debate was shown on Newsnight on Wednesday, 13 September, 2006 on BBC TWO.

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