Tory leadership contender Michael Gove: end "computer says no" public services

Written by Civil Service World on 1 July 2016 in News

Justice secretary and surprise Conservative leadership contender launches his bid to be the next prime minister with focus on public services shake-up

Justice secretary Michael Gove launches his Tory leadership bid with a vow to “create new routes into public service“. Image: PA

Conservative party leadership candidate Michael Gove has said those working in public services too often find themselves trapped in a “computer says no” environment — as he put public service reform at the heart of his bid to be the next prime minister.

Gove announced his surprise candidacy yesterday morning, a move that killed off former Mayor of London Boris Johnson's hopes of succeeding David Cameron as leader of the Conservative party in the wake of Britain’s decision to leave the European Union.

Launching his Conservative leadership bid with a speech on Friday, Gove — a prominent Leave campaigner in the referendum and the current justice secretary — said he wanted to set out a “big and bold vision” for public services that are “more decent, more human and more caring”.

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And he spoke out against strict performance targets, saying the “dictates of bureaucracies” could too often “over-ride” the idea of public service. 

Gove said: “I worry profoundly that those who enter public service with a vocation to devote themselves to others then find themselves trapped in structures where computer says no and there is never time or space for the human.

“I don’t want prisons that are warehouses for criminals. Hospitals that have to operate like production lines. Social care that is bureaucratic and unfeeling.

"We need to create new routes into public service that build on the idealism and desire to make a difference of our very best young people" - Michael Gove

“All these challenges call not for business-as-usual but for a bold vision," he added. "We need to change the incentives in many of our public services so people are rewarded for the difference they make to individual lives. We need to devolve far more power down to the front line – not just to the individuals running our prisons, hospitals and schools but to those on the individual wings, wards and classrooms. 

“And we need to create new routes into public service that build on the idealism and desire to make a difference of our very best young people.”

Gove promised to build on the work of the TeachFirst graduate training scheme, vowing to boost the prestige of frontline roles, and get “more hugely talented young people — and career-switchers who have made a success in the private sector and now want to make a difference — into public service”.

The Tory contender also pledged to spend “at least another £100million per week by 2020” on the National Health Service, a figure that is still some way short of the contentious figure of £350m that some sections of the campaign to leave the European Union pledged to divert to the health service if Britain voted to quit.

“Government has got to invest more money in our NHS,” Gove said. “The people who work in it are heroic. They do an amazing job. But we need to face the fact that we need more money in order to deliver Jeremy Hunt’s absolutely correct drive to guarantee even better standards of care.”

Gove’s brief time as justice secretary has seen him win praise from prison reform campaigners, after he signalled a desire to cut prison numbers and implement a more liberal, reformist policy agenda than his predecessor Chris Grayling.

But his time as education secretary proved divisive, and Gove frequently clashed with teaching unions over his move to radically expand the previous Labour government’s academy schools programme, which ends local authority involvement in the running of schools.

He will face current home secretary Theresa May in the Tory leadership content, as well as work and pensions secretary Stephen Crabb, energy minister Andrea Leadsom, and former defence secretary Liam Fox. May yesterday vowed to create a dedicated Brexit department in Whitehall if she is chosen as Cameron's successor.

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