UK Politics

Trust people and take risks, Cameron tells Whitehall

Civil servants must trust local people to deliver services - even if they fail, David Cameron has said.

The prime minister said he wanted a "people power revolution" in public services.

But his "radical reforms" would only work if civil servants ended their "risk averse culture" and learned to trust the public.

He also addressed concerns over civil service pay, saying a wage freeze was needed to avoid job cuts.

And he revealed that the coalition government had received more than 50,000 ideas for saving cash from public sector workers, many of which, he said, "will be introduced".

He said he had been impressed by the standard of the suggestions, which proved that it was not just another consultation exercise, and the best ones would be announced by ministers on Friday.

Speaking to an audience of civil servants in London about his vision of a "post-bureaucratic age", Mr Cameron said that greater choice, diversity and competition would drive up standards in schools and hospitals.

And in areas where competition was not appropriate, such as policing, priorities would be set by local people through the election of police commissioners and through greater transparency about how money is being spent.

He urged the civil service to commission more services from social entrepreneurs and charities, which he said would "drive down costs and put pressure on existing providers to raise their game".

"Where there has been caution about devolving power, there's got to be trust," he told the civil servants.

"Where there has been an aversion to risk, there needs to be boldness.

"I'm telling you today that your job under this government is not to frustrate local people and local ideas, it is to enable them."

He also urged civil servants not to be afraid of backing enterprises that might fail, promising there would be "a mechanism for failure", or that might not deliver the same standards across the country, arguing that the current centrally-controlled system had failed to deliver consistency also.

Outlining his vision of how their role could change, Mr Cameron said: "I hope that over time, we can start thinking of civil servants as civic servants because all of you do the jobs you do because you care about the future of this country.

"And I hope we will have a permissive regime, where if you are taking part in the Big Society, you are involved in a project in your local community, or in a volunteering activity, that is something your workplace will actively encourage."

The speech comes after the government announced plans to cap redundancy pay outs for civil servants.

Whistle blower protection

One union leader has warned strikes are inevitable if pay outs are reduced and there is wider concern over plans to cut departments' budgets by 25%, as part of plans to tackle the £155bn budget deficit.

In his speech to hundreds of civil servants at a conference in London, Mr Cameron also announced the publication of "structural reform plans" by two departments - education and communities.

He said they were part of his plans to "change our country for the better in every way" by changing the way it was run.

The Cabinet Office has already published its structural reform plan, including requiring public bodies to publish the salaries and expenses of senior staff, a pledge to introduce new protections for whistle blowers and a commitment to publish all central government spending over £25,000 online.

The government says the plans will give people clear goals and milestones for each department - so they can check they are meeting their commitments and implementing plans outlined in the coalition agreement between the Conservatives and Lib Dems.

Mr Cameron said the previous, Labour, government used "top down, controlling" and bureaucratic techniques to try to improve public services and get value for money.

Instead he pledged a "new approach": "We want to replace the old system of bureaucratic accountability with a new system of democratic accountability - accountability to the people, not the government machine."

He said the coalition government would put power "into the hands of people and communities" through "transparency, local democratic control, competition and choice".

'Ludicrous'

He also said he had "huge respect and admiration for the civil service" and say getting the coalition government off the ground was a "tribute to your expertise".

Asked if the government had unfairly targeted civil servants as it sought to tackle Britain's budget deficit, Mr Cameron said: "I think a pay freeze is fair, because you can keep more jobs."

But public sector union Unite ridiculed a letter from Mr Cameron asking for cuts ideas and telling civil servants to be "be innovative, be radical, challenge the way things are done" as "bordering on the ludicrous".

Unite's assistant general secretary for public services, Gail Cartmail, said: "What members are telling us is that they want an end to the expensive privatisation of public services.

"They don't want the axing of vital local services, such as nursery provision. The majority of the electorate in May didn't vote for the massive cuts programme now on the agenda.

"The fact that this letter has been sent out smacks of seeking 'boy scout' solutions.

"It is ludicrous to ask people for their suggestions to make savings, when the government has already decided on the biggest round of public sector cuts since the 1930s."

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