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Public Service Users Bill

March 8, 2015 3:54 PM

Public services must be open, transparent and accountable. That's why Liberal Democrats have ensured that this Government is the most open and transparent ever, allowing the public to see how and why decisions are made. This involves publishing government documents online and making public sector data freely available.

Liberal Democrats believe that the most important thing is to ensure that public services are high-quality and respond to local need. We do not believe there should be an automatic presumption for one model or another. The specific service and circumstances will always be different.

In some areas, private ownership can move public services too far away from their original purpose. Liberal Democrats in Government blocked Tory plans to allow profit-making providers to run state schools, and we blocked proposals to privatise parts of the NHS - a process that had been started under the last Labour Government.

However, there are some circumstances where private involvement has been as good thing. Royal Mail, for example, had been losing money for decades and had to be funded by the taxpayer. Thanks to private sector involvement, a more sustainable service can now be offered, without having to compete for public capital with other essential services like schools and hospitals, while still remaining regulated and accountable. Instead of being a drain on public finances, the sale of the Government's shares in Royal Mail has delivered nearly £2bn to the taxpayer. The National Audit Office found that Royal Mail is now more likely to be able to operate the universal postal service without taxpayer support, and has reduced the risk to taxpayers.

Not all third-party involvement in the delivery of public services is from private businesses either. Charities, social enterprises, mutuals and cooperatives all play valuable roles, and provide some important services, increasingly as part of the health and criminal justice systems. They are finding new and innovative ways to deliver services. The Public Service Users Bill could restrict them from being properly considered. We certainly would not want to see valuable charities, social enterprises and third sector organisations excluded from working in partnership with public bodies.