On Monday I gave my response to the Queen’s Speech. I urged the Government to continue to have ambition and measure their success in a way that allows further developments to take place so that we can meaningfully address the conditions of the poorest in our society with solutions that give them dignity and the justice that they deserve. Please read my full speech below or watch here.
It is a pleasure to follow Mr Sheeran. Having listened carefully to his remarks, I would take issue with his assertion that many on the Government Benches are fully committed to the notion that private sector is always good and public sector is always bad. That is not my approach. I wanted to speak in this the third day of the debate on the Queen’s Speech because I think that the delivery of quality public services is critical to what we deliver to our constituents, and it is really important that we have an open mind about how we deliver those services effectively. The biggest employer in my constituency, Salisbury hospital, is from the public sector. It has just gone through the rigours of a Care Quality Commission inspection, and I am grateful to Professor Sir Michael Richards for his constructive observations around that and the way to move forward.
I welcome the many Bills in the Queen’s Speech that seek to address the biggest issues facing our nation, both now and under all Governments: how we create the conditions where the most vulnerable can be helped on to a better pathway. I was genuinely shocked and saddened when listening to the response from the Leader of the Opposition last week, when he said:
“Apparently, it is all about instability, addiction and debt—all things that can be blamed on individuals about whom Governments like to moralise… Poverty and inequality are collective failures of our society as a whole, not individual failures.”—[Official Report, 18 May 2016; Vol. 611, c. 16.]
I agree that it is a failure of society as a whole that people in our communities must endure complex, ongoing problems, but it is not about labelling society collectively or people individually as failures, and it certainly is not about moralising; it is about a credible analysis of the diversity of individuals’ problems, recognising that it is incumbent on Government to deliver a customisation, adaptation and reformulation of public service delivery if they are sustainably to meet the needs of our communities. It is naive to say that a financial measure of poverty, by itself, is likely to provoke a meaningful recognition of the complexity of poverty.
I want to make some observations about several of the proposed Bills, but three themes will emerge as I contemplate them. The first is about the need to innovate in public service delivery and the second is about the need to integrate. Going back to my opening remark, it is not about public versus private; it is about recognising that sometimes we need to innovate and integrate good public services, bringing in new ideas and providers able to improve how we have done things to date. The third important element is about timeframes. I vividly remember, in my six years’ service as a magistrate, seeing individuals come back again and again before the court for crimes related to the same underlying problems—typically addictions—in their lives. On average, it takes people seven attempts at rehabilitation to overcome some of those addictions. There is no one template for delivering those sorts of services. That is why we need to be careful, when we frame the legislation, to put in place reasonable measures of what success looks like and to show an understanding of the complexity of the lives of the people we are trying to help.
My enthusiasm for the children and social work Bill is infused with a strong conviction that the Government are absolutely right to look at looked-after children and care leavers, who experience some of the worst outcomes, in terms of life trajectory, of any in our society. It is important, however, that innovation is examined. In local authorities near to me and across the country, we are beginning to look at schemes, such as those run by Safe Families for Children, where trustworthy families are engaged to look after children when underlying issues need to be dealt with in families. I recognise that the pathway to securing the engagement of safe families for children obviously necessitates more work in order to complete the process of safeguarding, but this is an example of where innovation and integration with existing public sector provision—in this case, within local authorities —can deliver enhanced outcomes.
On all the Bills, we need to look at how health, education and social services can work better together, so that the payback is significant. I remember, three or four years ago, being asked to visit a residential centre in Devon, with the Amber Foundation, which was working with young adults leaving the criminal justice system and in grave danger of not finding their way—often they were without family support and, being low-skilled, finding it difficult to get into employment, and typically they had been engaged in the criminal justice system previously. I hope that when we come to consider the proposed legislation, we will find room to enfranchise groups such as the Amber Foundation into the delivery of services. It is through commitment over time that those individuals are able to find a sustainable trajectory into independent living. We need to be honest and real about the challenges that those individuals face. I welcome the overdue reform of adoption. I have seen too many cases in which the evaluation stresses reasons why not, while in the meantime too much time passes and the individuals are left behind.
I welcome the “education for all” Bill, and there is particular enthusiasm in my constituency for the fair funding formula. Wiltshire is the third worst funded local authority, and that has a significant impact on the ability of schools to plan their budgets going forward. It is critical at the moment in the formation of a multi-academy trust, because trying to anticipate what the uplift will be is significant in assuring governors as they come together.
When we look at options facing young people at 18-plus, it is important to be clear about the integration of the great macro-policy goal of having 3 million new apprenticeships with enabling children from difficult backgrounds to get on to a pathway that will deliver the skills and employment opportunities that they crave.
The prisons and courts reform Bill is also very welcome. The emphasis on rehabilitation to reduce reoffending is wholly necessary. Importantly, it will introduce new boards with external experts and emphasise prisoner education and the necessity to have a pathway to employment.
Finally, there is the digital economy Bill, and this is a massive issue for rural Wiltshire. I have campaigned on it for many years. We must have a reliable plan for the last 5% in particular. The universal service obligation must have meaning and teeth in ways that my constituents and those across rural England can fully understand.
I finish where I started. I have no ideological objection to the integration of innovative ways of delivering public services. I hope that this Government will continue to have ambition and will measure their success in a way that allows further developments to take place so that we can meaningfully address the conditions of the poorest in our society with solutions that give them dignity and the justice that they deserve.