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The Other Invisible Hand: delivering public services through choice and competition

Julian Le Grand|
Princeton University Press (19 September 2007)

How can we ensure high-quality public services such as health care and education? Governments spend huge amounts of public money on public services such as health, education, and social care, and yet the services that are actually delivered are often low quality, inefficiently run, unresponsive to their users, and inequitable in their distribution. In this book, Julian Le Grand argues that the best solution is to offer choice to users and to encourage competition among providers.

Le Grand has just completed a period as policy advisor working within the British government at the highest levels, and from this he has gained evidence to support his earlier theoretical work and has experienced the political reality of putting public policy theory into practice. He examines four ways of delivering public services: trust; targets and performance management; 'voice'; and choice and competition. He argues that, although all of these have their merits, in most situations policies that rely on extending choice and competition among providers have the most potential for delivering high-quality, efficient, responsive, and equitable services. But it is important that the relevant policies be appropriately designed, and this book provides a detailed discussion of the principal features that these policies should have in the context of health care and education. It concludes with a discussion of the politics of choice.

Julian Le Grand is the Richard Titmuss Professor of Social Policy at LSE. From 2003 to 2005 he was senior policy adviser to the British prime minister.


'Le Grand's main themes revolve around the provision of genuine choice to users of public services and the incentives for improved service delivery that such provision puts in place. Provision of choice to users - especially in health and education - is controversial, partly because of doubts about user ignorance and because it runs in the face of professional norms. Le Grand delivers a very persuasive case in favour of user choice. This is a wise, imaginative, and eminently readable book.'
Geoffrey Brennan, Australian National University

'This book provides a great introduction to the crucial debate about choice in public services. Julian Le Grand makes a strong case that choice can be both more efficient and more equitable as a means of delivering public services.'
Simon Burgess, University of Bristol

Purchase this book from the publisher|

Launch event

Professor Le Grand will be speaking on the topics raised in The Other Invisible Hand on Tuesday 11 September at a Social Market Foundation debate on Choice: Illusion or Solution? The event is on Tuesday 11 September, 6.30-8pm atEEF, Broadway House, London SW1


  • Liam Byrne MP, minister of state, Home Office
  • Professor Julian Le Grand, Richard Titmuss Professor of Social Policy, London School of Economics
  • Lord (David) Lipsey, chair, Social Market Foundation
  • Chair: Ann Rossiter, director, Social Market Foundation

This debate marks the publication of The Other Invisible Hand: Delivering public services through choice and competition by Professor Julian Le Grand, in which he argues that the best solution to ensuring high quality public services is to offer choice to users and to encourage competition amongst providers.

For more information, please contact Myriam Ben Ammar on mbenammar@smf.co.uk| or call 020 7227 4412. 

Press cuttings

Irish Times
Public knaves or knights (13 Aug)
Article about the book The Other Invisible Hand: delivering public services through choice and competition, by professor Julian LeGrand, professor of social policy at LSE.
Source: Lexis Nexis News