Today David Cameron helped launch Demos’ Character Inquiry with a speech on how society can be made more responsible. There was much to admire in his readiness to tackle unpopular and unfashionable issues around the importance of good character to fashioning a good society. When it came to the crunch, the tricky bit of shaping policies to achieve results in these softer areas of public life one theme stood out – time and again, Cameron spoke of the importance of measuring outcomes rather than obsessing about process.
This is a theme that the Progressive Conservatism Project has written about before. In our report Leading from the Front we called for the process-driven auditing that dominates public sector accountability in this country to be scrapped and replaced with (wherever possible) single measures based on the desired outcomes for each of our public services. This is already ostensibly the case for our police forces. Jacqui Smith, in her tenure as Home Secretary, attempted to replace the Byzantine layers of tickbox measurements with a single assessment – whether or not the public in an area were happy with the performance of their police. Progressive Conservatives applaud this change and call for it to be extended to other areas of public service.
It was clear, from Cameron’s speech today, that he recognizes the adverse impact of our obsession with people’s day-to-day activity rather than with the successes they are able to achieve. If he really wants to create a more responsible society he has to allow its servants to take responsibility for their vital work; it won’t be easy (as the response of the Audit Commission to our original report shows) but it is one of the most significant challenges that will face Cameron if he becomes Prime Minister.