The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1995Prime Minister (1990-1997)

Mr Major’s Speech at the Charter Mark Awards – 4 December 1995

Below is the text of Mr Major’s speech at the Charter Mark Awards, held in London on Monday 4th December 1995.


Four and a half years ago I set up the Citizen’s Charter with one overriding and very simple aim – to create first-class public services throughout the country. For far too long ordinary people, in my judgment, felt helpless when faced with a state monopoly service. I learned in the past myself how that felt. I didn’t much like it. It had to change and with the Citizen’s Charter I believe it has changed.

What is public service about predominantly? I believe it is about people, educating children, treating patients, helping the disadvantaged, providing a good service to everyone, and it depends upon the dedication, the hard work and the commitment of the people who work in public service providing that help for the public.

I created the Charter Mark Scheme to recognise and reward the excellence of the people who provide that service, many of whom are with us today. This year we received a record number of applications. All but one of the 1992 winners applied yet again.

Applications from schools doubled, applications from hospitals doubled, and for the first time we received thousands upon thousands of nominations from members of the public who use those public services.

I am therefore delighted today to announce a record number of new Charter Mark winners – 198 – twice as many as in 1994. And that represents a very significant achievement by all of you present here today. Right across the United Kingdom, public services are reaching standards of performance that would have been quite literally unthinkable even a few years ago.

Let me just give you a couple of many examples that I could have given you this morning. Four years ago we promised more and better information. That is now happening. We now have annual performance tables for schools, hospitals, local authority services, police forces and fire brigades. We promised to introduce a guarantee on waiting times for operations. Four years ago, waits of 2 years or more were by no means uncommon. Today nobody waits that long for their operation.

But for the Charter to work it must have teeth as well. And that is why the panel’s assessment process this year was more rigorous than ever before. We want to maintain quality as the number of applications increases, and that is why this year 7 of the 1992 Charter Mark winners did not succeed with their applications.

So enjoy today, if you have won a Charter Mark, but don’t rest on your laurels, it isn’t a certainty that you will re-win it unless the service maintains its high standard in the future.

I too would like to do more. I would like to press forward the Charter programme to achieve better and more responsive public services. I would like to see the Charter Mark opened up to more of our publicly funded services, to encourage improvement, to reward excellence. And I can tell you today that from next year, housing associations will also be free to apply for the Charter Mark.

I would like to see more and more local services publishing their own Charters and then improving upon their own charters as year succeeds year. And in this way those charters can reflect local circumstances, local needs and user views as well. The new railway operators will publish individual charters which will be at least as good as British Rail’s. And I want individual schools to set attainment standards. I would like hospitals, GP practices, courts, police forces, all improving on the nationally set standards.

To the surprise of some people, there are already over 8,000 local charters. I would like to see that number double by the middle of next year. I want to see users more closely involved in these. I would like users, parents, patients, citizens, helping to set the standards and telling us what they would like to see. And also I would like to see them nominating organisations in ever greater numbers.

But it is a two-way street. Consumers must take responsibility as well. Patients should not call out the General Practitioner unless it really is an emergency. Ambulances should not be used as taxis, Parents have a duty to help schools maintain discipline and to make sure that children attend regularly. And rights for the public need to be balanced by responsibilities by the public to those people who work so hard to maintain and improve public services.

And this is going to be a key theme of a wide ranging White Paper that we will publish next summer to mark the 5th anniversary of the Charter programme. The paper will also contain new commitments and standards to take the Charter forward into the new millennium. It will be the most radical statement of our commitment to quality public services since the Citizen’s Charter itself was launched.

Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate everyone here on their achievement in winning a Charter Mark. You have demonstrated that the best of public service is as good as the private sector. We now have over 400 Charter Mark winners throughout the country. We have a growing network of quality networks helping exchange ideas on best practice. We have literally thousands of local charters. And I look to you for your help in spreading the message.

The Charter programme involving quality public services is working, and increasingly it is being seen by the public at large to be working. It is helping people. It has done, I believe, a great deal for the quality and the reputation of public service. I believe in the future it can do a great deal more. And so promise you this morning the Charter is here to stay and thank you for being here on this occasion.