Yesterday I was invited to talk to a seminar of public sector executives and some Public Affairs executives of larger companies about the change in the relationship between the individual and the state they could expect from the new government.
I said the word that unites Lib Dems and Conservatives is liberty. We want to give voters back more of their freedoms, and start to demolish the surveillance society, the authoritarian state, the bossy Whitehall knows best inheritance from Labour.
I said they should not feel threatened by this, but liberated themseleves. After years of top down decisions and directions, the public sector would be asked to change and improve through the inititiative and enterprise of its own local leaders. Some might want to set up companies, not for profits, charities or social enterprises to do what the state currently does, only cheaper and better. Some may see ways to do what the state currently does that raise quality and cut costs. It would be difficult to do so little for so much as we do at present. Bright and energetic public sector executives should welcome the coming staff freezes, as that offers them accelerated promotion. Good leaders should see that now their wish to transform and improve their service will be welcomed.
One good example of new thinking is the approach to waste management and recycling. Out go top down targets, bin surveillance, lectures, rules and fines. In will come consumer promotion and reward schemes. The Tesco model works, the dreary hectoring government model does not. If government wants to encourage more recycling, then make it worth people’s while. Then the word will spread and attitudes will change, so recycling becomes natural and a good thing to do. We changed from leaded petrol to unleaded with a tax cut on unleaded – it made it relatively fast and painless.
Today Mr Willetts is raising the issue of how we can have more and better Higher Education without a bigger bill for taxpayers. The issue of how many places to offer in HE is simply resolved.Universities should offer places to all who can reach a suitable standard at A level to mean they can get something out of a University course. Students need to show basic skills, levels of achievement in higher study and an aptitude for self motivated study to do well at university.
The issue of keeping cost down can be tackled in no small measure by looking at the issue of where you go to university. Most people in England live near to a university. They could go to the local one, and save all the rent costs of living away from home. They may also enjoy free or subsidised food by continuing to live at home. If cost is the obstacle to attendance, then keep the living costs down.
Some will want to go to a more distant univeristy because the far away one offers a higher quality course or is a more prestigious institution. Some may wish to go to a far away university because they want to live away from home. For the first category we need to encourage and support more bursary and scholarship schemes for students from lower income families. Higher income families will often support their children to leave home anyway. For the second category that is a life choice which may require and be worth a higher student loan.