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Blair and Howard promise public service reforms.

Byline: JON SMITH

PRIME Minister Tony Blair yesterday announced a ``change of gear'' in public service reforms, after the Tories also set out their chosen battleground for the next general election.

Conservative leader Michael Howard joined him in citing public sector reform to be the key, promising patients and parents the ``right to choose'' in the NHS and schools.

The Premier and the opposition leader both sought to move on from their parties'poor showings in last Thursday's elections,Mr Blair holding his monthly No 10 press conference and Mr Howard making a keynote speech.

The Prime Minister promised ministers would now move ``further and faster'' to improve schools and hospitals and other services.

And he said voters did not want the Government to change direction,but wanted reassurance that it was on track to deliver the promises it offered in 1997.

Mr Blair pointed out that, although Labour had lost heavily in local councils, theTories had not done well in Manchester or Birmingham -indicating voters did not see them as the next government.

And he dismissed Liberal Democrat gains, saying the party found it difficult to keep control of authorities and made ``a mess'' of government. Mr Blair declared: ``Now is not the time for a change of direction,but it is the time for a change of gear.''

The Premier said the Government had laid the foundations for improved schools and hospitals.

``Ministers would set out the next steps to go ``further and faster'' in the coming months.

Health Secretary John Reid is expected to lead the charge, publishing his department's plans in the middle of next week.

Other ministers will follow, publishing five-year plans to flesh out the next steps in reform.

Mr Howard announced changes to his social policies yesterday.

His party is to drop the terms ``patient's passport''and ``pupil'spassport'' and rename the policy offering greater flexibility ``the right to choose''.

Under a Conservative government,patients would be able to choose which hospital they were treated in and parents would be given a far greater say over the school their children attend, said Mr Howard in a speech in London.

Mr Howard also outlined the investment to pay for the reforms. A Tory government would put an extra pounds 34bn a year into the NHS and an extra pounds 15bna year into schools every year over the next Parliament.

That was a direct attempt to counter Labour charges that a Tory government would cut public spending by pounds 18bn.
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Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Jun 16, 2004
Words:412
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