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HM Government: Policy Review

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The Role of the State

As communications technology has shrunk the world and globalisation has opened it up, so the state has come under pressure to change. The UK is a very different place today to the UK post Second World War. There have been great social changes since then, with waves of migration bringing increased diversity, deference declining, attitudes changing and no longer the same stable social hierarchies.

People now want more control and more choice over what they do.

This paper moves away from the old arguments over whether the state should be large or small, whether it got in the way of solutions or was the solution of first resort. Arguing that neither of these positions is correct, this paper instead outlines that the state is a means to an end and that ends and means need to be kept apart.

This Policy Review introduces the idea of the strategic and enabling state as a response to the continuing evolution of global and domestic trends. It seeks to reinvent effective state power for the current age. The ultimate purpose of the strategic and enabling state is to redistribute power to people. This could mean either an expanded role, such as support for childcare provision, or a reduced role, such as providing individual budgets to users of public services, so that they can select which services they need and who should provide them. This also means the state focusing on outcomes rather than getting involved in the detail of particular decisions, for example by giving independence to the Bank of England.

It is a vision of the state in which we increase the range of opportunities for engagement, we empower citizens to hold public institutions to account and we ensure that citizens take joint responsibility with the state for their own well-being.

Any state has five main roles. First, as a provider of services. Secondly, as a commissioner of services, where the state specifies the required outcome but pays a supplier to provide the service. Third as a regulator, ensuring that standards are complied with. Fourth, as a provider of information so that citizens can make informed choices. Fifth, as a legislator to set clear rules of behaviour.

The strategic and enabling state has to determine the right balance between these roles.

This Policy Review paper does not offer a manifesto or detailed blueprint. It is instead an attempt to analyse the problems we face and suggest the directions for future policy.

The document sets out the six features of the strategic and enabling state. These are:

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