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
    manifesto.

    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
    concessions.

    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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