Pressure on for reform

The new gallery of ministerial faces in charge of the various
government departments with an interest in social care does nothing
to suggest that there will be any marked changes of emphasis in
Labour’s third term. Its re-election with a much-reduced majority
is probably the best that social care could have hoped for,
suggesting that spending will at least be maintained while some of
the government’s wilder proposals for public sector reform are
moderated by opposition from its own ranks.

But Tony Blair’s determination to carry on the public service
reform agenda should not be underestimated. His response to the
briefing against him by Labour MPs over the weekend was to come out
fighting, catapulting Andrew Adonis, one of the principal
architects of Blair’s public sector policy, into government as an
education minister. This, coupled with John Hutton’s elevation to
Alan Milburn’s old job in the cabinet, David Miliband’s ascent to
cabinet rank as minister for communities and local government and
Patricia Hewitt’s arrival as health secretary, signals business as
usual for New Labour. Perhaps the most bullish appointment is that
of David Blunkett as work and pensions secretary, at a time when
the government has to grapple with some thorny questions about
pensions policy and getting up to a million people on incapacity
benefit into jobs.

The loss of community care minister Stephen Ladyman to the
Department for Transport will be keenly felt: although he could be
abrasive, few doubted his command of the subject or that he had the
interests of adult social care at heart. His replacement Liam Byrne
was first elected to the Commons only last year, yet will need rare
qualities of vision and leadership to bring the radical manifesto
for change in the adult green paper to fruition.

There will be more mixed feelings about Margaret Hodge’s
departure as children’s minister. Derided for her record in local
children’s services, Hodge gives way to Beverley Hughes, brought in
from the cold having resigned last year as immigration minister,
who scarcely deserves better than her predecessor after introducing
legislation that has already begun to break up asylum-seeking
families. But her social work background will inspire confidence,
at least among those who want to ensure that children’s academic
performance is not all that matters in the Department for Education
and Skills.

If the reshuffle contains a message, it is that there will be no
let-up in the pressure for reform. Until, that is, Gordon Brown
takes over. When that will be and what precisely it will mean is
another story.

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