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Competition and choice good for public sector

Photograph of Professor Julian Le GrandDespite rocky times in the financial markets, Professor Julian Le Grand (pictured), a London School of Economics (LSE) professor and senior policy advisor to the Government between 2003-05, argues that the principle of market competition can still offer solutions to public sector problems in a new short film that goes online today (15 January).

In the film, a collaboration between LSE and The Independent newspaper's website, he says that increased competition, because of greater parental choice and an increasing amount of independence for schools, has been good for education.

He says: 'Schools have been given the freedom and opportunity to experiment, innovate and to do their own thing. This can only improve the education standards of the country.'

He argues that the government should pick up the idea of a 'pupil premium' in order to give young people from disadvantaged backgrounds greater access and choice of schools: 'At the moment when the school takes on pupils they get a fixed sum of money for each pupil. The idea of the pupil premium is that the amount of money would be greater for those that come from so called "poor postcodes.'

He notes with slight embarrassment that, while the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have picked up on this idea, the current government which he advised has not yet done so.

Photograph of children in a classroomProfessor Le Grand helped develop choice and competition in the NHS health care during his time as senior policy advisor to the Labour government and also advised on choice in education.

He comments: 'The choice and competition policy has been broadly successful. We've introduced choice for schools and for patients. Choice is a good thing in and of itself. But it also means that if people are getting a bad service from somewhere - a school or a hospital - they can go somewhere else. And that gives an incentive for the school or the hospital that is losing pupils or losing patients, to improve.'

Professor Le Grand counters the ideas that choice is merely a middle class hobby horse. He says: 'Choice is popular and is particularly popular amongst the least well off. This is understandable because the middle classes usually have a way of manipulating non choice systems. They can deal with bureaucracy and with professionals. They can, for example, negotiate with the GP to go to the best place for treatment or move house to be near the good schools. It's the less well off that don't have these opportunities.'

The film can be seen at www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/julian-le-grand-choice-is-particularly-popular-among-the-less-well-off-1380097.html


Notes for editors

The Big Ideas series is produced by LSE in conjunction with Robin Powell, a freelance journalist for Sky News and The Politics Show on BBC1, and a director of Ember Regis. The company is a pioneer in the field of internet television and produces high-quality video content for a range of private and public sector clients and for all the major UK broadcasters.

For more information contact: Sue Windebank, Senior Press Officer, LSE, T: 020 7496 4696, E: s.windebank@lse.ac.uk

15 January 2009