US trip

I'm writing this on the train between New York and Washington.  The Commons doesn't sit while the major parties hold their conferences, so this week I'm in the US - not, by the way, at the taxpayers' expense.  I'll be speaking at events on equality, meeting senior White House officials and police chiefs, and visiting an innovative sentencing reform project.

I'm always energised by visits to the US.  Four years ago I went to Chicago and saw what a success their community policing, regular beat meetings and 311 non-emergency number had been.

I learnt from this, as I did from New York's famous police reforms which drove down crime, and street level crime mapping in Los Angeles, and set out proposals for changing our own system.  Now, in government, I can put these ideas into practice.

I'm certainly not suggesting that we import every facet of US policing into the UK.  But I do think that the stronger links between police and public which directly elected representatives bring are a good thing.  We don't have to look across the Atlantic: greater accountability has been a success with the Mayor of London, and I think it can do good elsewhere.

I'm a great believer in learning from what works, and certainly not just the States.  When I was running the think tank Reform we held a conference on school choice, where we heard from parents, teachers and politicians in the US and Sweden how it was possible to start good new schools in the state system.  A few years later, the Coalition Government is putting these proven reforms into practice here.

A fortnight ago, the Government announced a pilot scheme to pay a prison by results to reduce re-offending.  The idea came from a policy paper, 'Prisons with a Purpose', which I wrote two years ago.  I believe this is a world-first for the penal system.  But the idea of using independent providers paid by results in the public sector came from successful welfare to work reforms in the US.

As the public sector faces the challenge of delivering more from less, these radical reforms are as important as they are exciting.  So it's worth learning from experience abroad.

Christopher N Howarth