Plans to devolve further budgetary powers to primary care took a significant step forward last week when health minister John Hutton made his first address as minister with responsibility for primary care to a workshop on incentive schemes for GPs.

The workshop, organised by the National Association for Primary Care, marked the next stage in promoting ideas on greater freedoms over budgets for primary care, outlined by prime minister Tony Blair in March in a speech promising a£100m incentive scheme for primary care.

Mr Hutton's speech highlighted the 'key strategic role' of GPs. He said a range of measures would be used to recruit and retain frontline staff, including 'practice incentives, team bonuses, and investment in primary care premises'.

He also said there would be more support for primary care organisations to manage the increased resources being directed at them. He said: 'It is in this area that indicative budgets can be helpful in providing key management information to GPs, allowing them to run their practices as effectively as possible.'

NAPC chair Dr Peter Smith said that for indicative budgets to work, 'there has to be management capability at practice level and primary care trust level'.