Lib Dem group backs reform

Julian Harris
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THE LIBERAL Democrat wing of the coalition government should embrace reforms that bring competition and choice to public services, Westminster’s leading liberal think tank will argue today.

There is a “very strong historical strand of thinking within the Liberal Democrats in favour of choice and the role of markets”, the Centre Forum will state, citing the party’s own constitution.

The call comes ahead of the government’s open public services white paper. The government should be solely concerned with the quality of services, and not with which kind of organisation delivers them, Centre Forum told City A.M.

“Whilst it claims to be ‘ownership-blind’ when it comes to public services, the government seems to be influenced too much by politics and ‘fad and fashion’,” said Centre Forum chief executive Chris Nicholson.

The Lib Dem constitution recommends that “the state allows the market to operate freely where possible but intervenes where necessary.” Policies should follow this example by maintaining government funding for public services, as well as regulation, yet involve more competition from profit-making and voluntary organisations, the think tank will state.

The group’s report quotes former Liberal leader Jo Grimond: “The state owned monopolies are among the greatest millstones round the neck of the economy...…Liberals must stress at all times the virtues of the market,” Grimond wrote in 1980.