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UK Prime Minister Tony Blair
"We want to accelerate the pace of change"
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The BBC's Niall Dickson
"All the parties promise better public services but demands will also rise"
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Head-to-head on health
Health Secretary Alan Milburn and Shadow Health Secretary Liam Fox
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DrJenniferDickson of the Kings Fund
"There are no magic bullets in the private sector"
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Monday, 21 May, 2001, 19:39 GMT
Blair's 'second term mission'
Tony Blair
Mr Blair announced a 300m partnership to fight cancer
The private sector will be invited to play a greater part in the provision of key public services under Labour's "mission for the second term".

Prime Minister Tony Blair set out his case for long-term investment in schools, hospitals and transport in a speech at Gravesend in Kent on Monday evening.


If we don't invest in public services we end up with the public services we deserve

Tony Blair
But this investment would be tied to a radical reform agenda of deregulation, diversification and decentralisation.

As well as outlining his vision for the future of public services, Mr Blair used the lecture to announce a new 300m partnership to fight cancer and strokes.

Goals

The return to the public service agenda follows the prime minister's now-famous ambush by Sharron Storer - the partner of a cancer patient - on the doorstep of a Birmingham hospital last week.

Contrasting Labour's "willingness to invest in public services" with what he said was the Tories' commitment to 20bn of spending cuts, Mr Blair set out his "three fundamental goals for public services".

These are:

  • High minimum standards in every public service.

  • Renewal of public services around the user.

  • Frontline services put first, balancing local autonomy and central control.

    Mr Blair's "essential case for investment" focused on the individual users of the services - who he described at one point as "consumers".

    He said: "If we don't invest in public services we end up with the public services we deserve.

    "In the end it costs us, as individuals, money".

    But while promising resources to recruit more doctors, nurses and teachers, Mr Blair said the way key services were run would have to change.

    The "overhaul" of the comprehensive education system would place additional emphasis on vocational skills.

    Nurses
    Labour has pledged to boost nurse numbers
    Demarcations in the health service would be broken down to allow nurses to play a greater role in patient treatment.

    And in what could unsettle the traditional wing of his party, Mr Blair said a re-elected Labour government would increase the role of the private sector to boost investment in transport.

    Mr Blair said the idea that services should be provided entirely by the public sector or entirely by the private sector had "always been a nonsense".

    "In the real world virtually every public service engages with private partners," he said.

    And to underline the point he announced a 300m four-year "dedicated partnership" with equipment suppliers to improve the diagnosis and treatment of cancer and strokes in the NHS.

    Problems inherited

    Mr Blair argued that Labour had begun to improve public services over the last four years, after it had come to office in 1997 spending more money on debt interest payments than on whole school system.

    "It was impossible to imagine how serious that problems was," he said.

    The government had scrapped the annual spending round in favour of a three-year investment cycle and ten-year plans for health and transport.

    And he claimed more nurses, doctors and teachers had been recruited.

    "We have gone a little way towards exorcising the old fatalism which stifled ambitions for this country."

    Turning his fire on the opposition, the prime minister said the "great dividing line" of the general election was the parties' "willingness to invest in public services".

    And he warned that the Tories under William Hague had at its core a "hostility to the basic concept of public services".

    Conservative party chairman Michael Ancram accused Labour of failing to deliver on its promises.

    He said: "Tony Blair knows that under Labour the National Health Service has got worse, secondary class sizes are bigger, violent crime is higher, police numbers are lower and they have imposed 45 stealth taxes."

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