In September 2011 we reconvened our Citizens’ Jury - a group of 16 people who had taken part in the two previous Juries - to discuss the Coalition Government’s first year in dealing with the deficit, and to look at issues surrounding the Open Public Services White Paper.
We first convened the Citizens’ Jury as part of our response to the Spending Review 2010 consultation. We wanted to help inform the Coalition’s thinking by providing insight into the public’s attitudes and views on the deficit, and to understand what is important to citizens when selecting where and how to make cuts in public spending. We brought the Jury back after the Chancellor’s announcement to explore their views on the decisions Government had made and how well those decisions met the criteria they had developed.
In this session, we asked the Jurors to look back at the year since the Chancellor’s announcement and discuss Government’s actions against their criteria and in relation to the three Principles of Reform, Growth and Fairness set out in the Spending Review.
Jurors strongly support the idea of reform - applauding some changes, particularly around welfare spending - but they felt as though reform has not gone far enough. They felt that structural reforms have begun to appear, but the government has not been able to make more deep-seated cultural reforms.
The Jury still feels a lack of clarity as to what the Government’s long term aims are. They also felt there have been investment opportunities, particularly in providing facilities and support for young people, which the government has not taken.
Education (with strong support of the protected core teaching budgets in primary and secondary schools, but concern over the scale of tuition fees and the lack of jobs and training schemes for school leavers at 16), and defence spending in the wake of the Libyan conflict (with varying views over what role Britain should play in world affairs) were key areas of discussion.
They strongly supported postponing “nice-to-haves” - such as the postponement of High Speed Rail - and the idea of means-testing child benefit, but they felt more could be done. They approved giving local authorities control over how to cut their own budgets and felt that local knowledge would enable councils to make cuts in the fairest way.
However, there was some concern as to whether councils would make these cuts in a way that prioritised the needs of the community rather than as a result of politics.