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National Policy Forum, 8 Feb Nov 2002
Partnership in Power – Act II Scene 1
 
The National Policy Forum on 8 February discussed five
policy areas: Britain in the world; democracy,
citizenship and political engagement; health; trade and
industry; and welfare reform. The documents will be
revised, approved by the Joint Policy Committee on 28
February, and then published for party consultation
through to September and the annual conference.
Charles Clarke promised that electronically-submitted
responses would be displayed on Labour’s website, a
great opportunity to rebuild communication.
 
The Forum aimed to produce accessible papers with
open-ended questions to stimulate debate, and also to
reduce ambiguity. Members were alarmed by the
widely-leaked statement that the future NHS would
provide “largely comprehensive services,
overwhelmingly free at the point of use”. This was
intended merely to reflect current charges for
prescriptions, eye tests and dentistry, and perhaps
future fees for TV or internet access in hospitals, and it
will be rephrased to avoid misinterpretation. Plans to
increase NHS capacity by using private healthcare
suppliers “to the full” still caused unease, but an
appendix came down firmly in favour of general taxation
as the most efficient and equitable funding method.
Overall, members felt the documents sometimes took a
narrow parliamentary view, and should include
perspectives from local and regional government, from
devolved institutions in Scotland and Wales, and from
Europe.
 
Many specific changes were proposed. The nature of
reform and the role of the private sector in public
services should be defined, and transferred employees
should be safeguarded. National Missile Defense would
not protect against 11 September-type terrorist attacks,
as implied. The health paper should include dentistry
and mental health services. Party policy enabling
candidates to stand for public office at 18 should be
implemented, and raising turnout and political
engagement depended on vision and motivation, not
tinkering with the mechanics of the vote. And with the
collapse of Equitable Life, the close of final salary
occupational schemes, and the falling value of annuities,
I would like to reconsider compulsory contributions to
universal state-managed pensions, as agreed when
Conference debated welfare reform in 1999.
 
How much difference the Forum made will be seen when
the revised papers emerge. They are shorter than last
time, and somewhat more readable. But the most
important questions are the ones that no-one has
thought of yet, a point reiterated at a recent regional
conference. If areas or options are missing,
constituencies, branches, forums or unions must include
them in their submissions.
 
The Forum will not reconvene until November, and the
policy commissions were asked to keep other members
informed on feedback and on party views on
contemporary issues. The Industry Commission has not
received a single letter or resolution since I joined it in
October, and assumes universal contentment with
employment rights, work/life balance, the national
minimum wage, productivity, manufacturing, the Post
Office, GATS (the General Agreement on Trade of
Services), export credit guarantees for projects such as
the Ilisu Dam, controls on selling military equipment,
energy policy, and sustainable development. If we are
wrong, please send us your suggestions for change.
.
Ann Black
 
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