All Eyes On The Voters

For those working in local government, it is sometimes hard to
remember that this is a prime minister who worries about the impact
of his policies and the apparent failure of voters to notice it. In
social care there has seldom been a dull moment under the onslaught
of targets, service restructuring and reform, and the determination
of government to put service users centre stage. Yet, with a
general election probable in four months’ time, the pace of change
is unlikely to slow down.

The ministerial reshuffle that followed David Blunkett’s departure
before Christmas saw three significant moves: Charles Clarke, now
home secretary, took charge of youth justice and asylum; Ruth
Kelly, who rose from the Treasury to become education secretary, is
well placed to oversee the chancellor’s pre-budget report pledge of
massive investment in child care; while David Miliband’s transfer
to the Cabinet Office to work with Alan Milburn on election
strategy reinforces the promise of a thoroughly Blairite

Speculation that Clarke will ease up on the social conservatism of
his predecessor’s asylum and youth justice policies is likely to
prove unfounded in a year when populist appeal to the electorate is
at a premium. The need to reform the asylum system and a prison
service where the number of suicides has shot up once again will
concentrate his mind, but with the Conservatives desperate to
outflank him on both issues there are unlikely to be any major

In the plus column, Gordon Brown’s talk of a “progressive
consensus” between government and people suggests that ministers
are becoming less shy about advertising their redistributionist
credentials. Ruth Kelly, an ally of Brown and Blair, will ensure
that the child care strategy remains focused on tackling poverty,
while she and her cabinet colleagues will be freer to push forward
on income inequality and social mobility. In the meantime, Milburn
will seek greater involvement of the voluntary and private sectors
in the delivery of services and the creation of choice.

All this on top of possibly more local government restructuring, a
mooted merger of the Commission for Social Care Inspection and the
Healthcare Commission, and implementation of the Freedom of
Information Act 2000.

There will be no shortage of radical policies in the coming year.

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