The private sector boosting public services

December 6, 2014 10:19 PM
By Cllr Greg Stone

The Journal's editorial on the issue of free schools (6th Dec) made the not unreasonable point that ideology shouldn't get in the way of common sense. However, the argument was spoiled somewhat by linking it to a perceived privatisation agenda on rail franchises and NHS reforms.

It is no bad thing if the NHS can draw upon private sector capacity to deliver healthcare to more people more quickly providing it remains free at point of use - as Blair's Labour government recognised. Using clinics to deliver more hip operations or more MRI scans, using private independent contractors (also known as GPs) to provide primary healthcare, or even using Boots The Chemist to supply prescriptions surely should not be a cause for alarm. The key test is whether it leads to better outcomes for patients and the taxpayer.

As for the East Coast Main Line, I agree that East Coast did a good job in public ownership. Nevertheless the key test should be which operator can achieve the best service and best value to passengers and the public finances, regardless of sector. On this basis, another provider has seemingly made a better offer: the government must now seek to ensure this is delivered.

It should not matter whether providers are in the public sector, private sector, third sector, or a combination. What matters is ensuring that the public gets the best deal, and that requires keeping an open mind about public service delivery. We should favour innovation and pragmatism in public procurement, not political ideology.

By all means scrutinise right wing "privatisation agendas", but left wing conventional wisdom also ought to be challenged where it is not serving the best interests of service users and the general public.

Cllr Greg Stone
Lib Dem, Newcastle City Council