How can we improve the quality of public services? A public debate hosted by the Health Services Management Centre (HSMC), University of Birmingham


Date: Tuesday 31st March, 11-12.30        Venue: Law, Lecture Theatre 2, University of Birmingham

This house believes that ‘given the challenges we face, choice and competition are the least worst way of reforming public services’


  • Sir Julian Le Grand, Richard Titmuss Professor of Social Policy, London School of Economics and former health advisor to Tony Blair (speaking for the motion)
  • „„Dr. Robert Page, Reader in Democratic Socialism and Social Policy, Institute of Applied Social Studies, University of Birmingham (speaking against the motion)
  • „„Prof. Jon Glasby, HSMC Director (chair)

Faced with a series of financial, demographic and social challenges, governments around the world are grappling with very difficult decisions about the future of their welfare services. In the UK, a key contribution to this debate has been made by Sir Julian Le Grand, Richard Titmuss Professor of Social Policy at the London School of Economics and a former health advisor to the British Prime Minister. One of many of Julian’s contributions has been to argue that greater choice and competition can be powerful tools for reform, potentially having more positive impact and fewer negative knock-on effects than other approaches (such as trusting front-line professionals to deliver a good service, relying on targets and performance management, or drawing on service user voice).

This sense that choice and competition may be the best (or at least the ‘least worst’) option has been very influential – but also very controversial. In contrast, other commentators have argued that choice and competition can be manipulated by Neo-liberal governments in order to undermine public service values and services, leading to reduced quality and greater inequality. While these debates have significant implications in terms of research and theory, they are also of massive political and public importance – and this free panel discussion adopts the design of a formal debate in order to maximise critical discussion and to draw out the diversity of (often very strongly held) opinions that exist in such a crucial area of policy and practice. After an initial vote by the audience, both speakers (Sir Julian Le Grand and Dr. Robert Page) will speak for and against the motion.

There will then be debate in groups and in plenary, with a panel comprising public service managers, practitioners and service users listening to the debate and each giving a short reflection at the end of the plenary discussion. The two speakers will then sum up their argument and a final vote will be taken to see if the motion is carried or not.

This is a free event for all HSMC staff, students and supporters. However, space is likely to be tight, so please reserve a place via Evelina Balandyte –