Our society is Blighted by the Failure to Extend Equal Opportunity

13/07/2011 00:01 BST | Updated 12/09/2011 10:12 BST

We all want to see ever better outcomes from our public services, especially for the most disadvantaged - that is common ground in politics. The question is how to achieve that objective. On Monday the coalition government gave its answer: giving people and communities the power to shape the services they receive.

This government's overwhelming desire to improve public services is behind our plans to reform them, set out in today's white paper Open Public Services. Because we want to make sure everyone sees the benefit, we have a moral duty to ensure that our public services deliver equal access and opportunity for the people that rely on them.

They certainly don't at present. At their best, our public services fit seamlessly around our needs. But despite the best efforts of hard-working, committed public servants, too often the system has been set up so that people don't get what they need, they get what they are given. And only those with deep pockets or sharp elbows get the option of a better alternative.

Our society is blighted by the persistent failure to extend equal opportunity, dignity and worth to all. Inequalities in access to good schools, high quality healthcare, safe places to play, culture, sporting opportunities, decent homes and so much more leave our society less free, less fair and less united.

In order to ensure that every citizen is given the opportunities they deserve this Coalition Government has already moved quickly to lower taxes for the poorest, reform welfare and make work pay. We want economic opportunity to be more widespread than ever before.

But these changes which will help generate more wealth, and see it spread more fairly, are only part of our mission to make opportunity more equal.

We are also reforming our public services. Because it is only by tackling the unfairnesses and inefficiencies which still exist in the public sector that we can play fair by all.

All of us rely on good public services to lead civilized lives in a cohesive nation. The NHS is a universal service, and must always remain so. The promise of care based on need not ability to pay is inviolable. The state of our immediate environment profoundly influences the quality of all our lives.

But while we all have a shared interest in the best possible public services we know that the poorer we, or our neighbours are, the more we rely on the State and its agencies. Those who live in our most disadvantaged communities rely most critically on the NHS and need most urgently to see public health improve. Our poorest children depend most powerfully on high quality childcare, good pre-school provision and excellent teaching to flourish in later life.

Those in our most economically-impoverished neighbourhoods rely most on decent provision of sporting facilities, parks and greenery close at hand to lead fuller lives.

And at the moment they are often let down. So reform of public services is a key progressive cause. The better our public services, the more we are helping those most in need. That is why those who resist reform, put the producer interest before the citizens' needs, and object to publishing information about how services perform are conspiring to keep our society less free, less fair and less united.

Throughout the Open Public Services White Paper we explain just how our reforms give power to those who have been overlooked and underserved. Decentralising power, diversifying provision, focussing funding on the most disadvantaged, and improving accountability will give people and communities a real say on what services they get and on where, when and how the services they use are delivered. By giving people choice to tailor services to their needs, a louder voice, and fair access, people will get better services their way.

These changes will wrest power out of the hands of highly-paid officials and give it back to people and communities - those that know best about their own needs. And our reforms will mean the poorest will be at the front of the queue. The top-down, centralised model of the past few years has failed: now is the time to put power where it belongs, with the people.