UK Politics

Key government plans to change public services delayed

Hospital nurse
Image caption The government says the NHS has to "modernise" through reform.

The government is being forced to rewrite the timetable for some of its most controversial policies, with almost 90 "milestones" being altered.

New plans for each department have been published, detailing delays to moves including Royal Mail privatisation.

The exception is the Department of Health, which says it cannot produce a timetable until the current "pause" in NHS legislation is complete.

Shadow health secretary John Healey said the delay added to the confusion.

In January, Prime Minister David Cameron advocated a fast-track timetable for public service reforms, asking, "If not now, then when?" and saying Tony Blair had been "too tentative" during his term in office.

The delays highlight how contentious some previously-agreed government policies have become, both inside the coalition and more widely.

Knock-on effect

The government's health reforms were paused in April in order to conduct a "listening exercise" that should be completed early next month.

But the Department of Health said it could not give any date for the publication of a new business plan once this was over.

That means key planks of its previous business plan - published last November - are now on hold, including the abolition of primary care trusts by April 2013.

But the delay in health reforms appears also to have had a wider knock-on effect.

It was made clear on Friday that the Public Service Reform White Paper has been delayed "until after the NHS listening exercise".

It had been scheduled for January this year, and would expand employee ownership of public services.

Elsewhere, a White Paper on cutting regulations on business has been delayed from May until October to allow further consultation.

The Big Society bank - to help voluntary groups get started - has been delayed by a year.

The government admits "the complexity of the privatisation process [of Royal Mail] has become more apparent since November" and ministers say they are delaying the process of getting EU approval for state aid to the company until next year, which means there will be no early sell-off.

The government is keen to point out the new business plans place more emphasis on economic growth and policies to promote social mobility.

A statement on the Downing Street website said: "The 2011 business plans reflect an updated assessment of when the government will implement its commitments set out in the programme for government."

Shadow health secretary John Healey said: "This delay adds to the confusion and uncertainty the Tory-led government is causing throughout the NHS.

"David Cameron's costly NHS reorganisation is putting extra pressure on health service staff and patient services.

"The prime minister should should call a halt, not just a pause in his NHS plans."

The government has also been forced to abandon plans to fully automate the processing of benefit claims.

The Department for Work and Pensions promised to make the switch by October 2012 but in its latest business plan it admitted it was impossible to achieve.

In a statement it said: "The aspiration is to maximise automation, rather than to fully automate benefits processing."

The DWP will now concentrate on Jobseeker's Allowance and even then it predicted it would only be able to automate about 75% of claims.

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