The Other Invisible Hand: Delivering public services through choice and competition
Julian Le Grand, Princeton University Press, 2007
ISBN 13: 978-0-691-12936-5
Star rating: 4/5
Julian Le Grand used to be Tony Blair’s personal guru of the public sector quasi-market and here, in summary, are the forceful arguments for choice and competition that will have been heard in Downing Street during those years. There may be less talk of markets in Number 10 these days, but no one should doubt that Le Grand’s ideas still have a significant influence over the delivery of health, education and, increasingly social care. He is co-inventor of independent social work practices, one of the more controversial aspects of the Care Matters white paper published in the summer.
As professor of social policy at the London School of Economics, he has long argued that the traditional view of public sector professionals as altruistic “knights” is often misguided unless given incentives to perform well some of them are more likely to be “knaves”, pursuing their own interests above those of service users. Competition and choice is one such incentive because users can go elsewhere if they don’t like the service they are getting.
Another potential incentive Le Grand discusses is “voice”, all the ways in which users can tell providers how to improve services. His case against relying too much on voice would have been more compelling if he had considered remedies for its weaknesses, eg advocacy, as he does for choice. While Gordon Brown’s focus on citizenship may improve the prospects for voice, this is a book that anyone with an interest in the future of public services should read.
Mark Ivory is executive editor, Community Care