Wednesday 7 May 2008
PASC URGES PUBLIC SERVICE PROVIDERS TO PUT USERS AT THE HEART OF PUBLIC SERVICES
The Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) today publishes the
first parliamentary assessment of the idea of “user involvement” in public services, potentially a new model for public service delivery that promises improved services and greater user satisfaction.
The idea of “user involvement” covers simple consultation with service users at one end of the spectrum through to “user directed” or “user driven” services at the other. User driven services are those where people actually have some kind of managerial, or more often financial, control of service delivery (such as individual budgets in health and social care), or even participate in service provision themselves.
The Committee found that consultation serves an important function in eliciting people’s views about the services they are getting-but as recent examples have highlighted, it can be a one-way process with no guarantee that services will change as a result.
Greater user involvement chimes well with the Government’s current emphasis on “personalised” public services-where services are tailored to the needs of individual service users. However, the Committee notes it would be perfectly possible to provide personalised services with little or no actual user involvement. The Committee concludes that achieving high-quality, responsive public services means empowering and engaging with service users as much as simply addressing their needs. It urges the Government to foster a public service culture of working with people to ensure that personalisation results in excellent public services.
The Committee concludes that user involvement is more likely to work where the outcomes directly affect people’s lives. One successful example is the experience of Tenant Management Organisations (TMOs), where tenants collectively manage services such as rent and service charge collection, cleaning of communal areas and repair and maintenance work. Studies have shown that TMOs perform better on these counts than most local authorities.
However, the Committee warns that greater user involvement will not be appropriate for all services. Where users are unwilling or unable to become more involved in service provision, they should not be penalised for this. The Committee says greater user involvement will also not work if is effectively regarded as a “downloading” or cost-cutting exercise, simply transferring costs to service users.
The Committee says the onus is on the Government to put the right conditions in place to help achieve public services that are truly responsive to the people that use them. People that want to be more involved in public services should get the support they need to do so. The Government should also see what can be done to promote user responsiveness among public service workers through appropriate changes to training and standards. The Committee recommends that government departments overseeing public service provision should rigorously monitor user-driven initiatives, such as the individual budgets in health and social care, to identify their cost-effectiveness.
Committee Chair Tony Wright MP said: “Involving people in public services is an important and innovative idea, with huge potential. Genuinely empowering service users-as the Government says it wants to do-would fundamentally change the way many of our public services are currently provided. The reason we should do it is because in the right circumstances, user involvement could significantly improve services and people’s experience of them.”
“However, we do need more robust evidence about the effects of stronger user involvement. We’ve heard a lot of claims about user-driven public services, including that they strengthen citizenship and improve public services. There is some evidence that user-oriented services do result in higher satisfaction and better outcomes. The question is still about cost-effectiveness, and how best to make ‘personalisation’ of public services work. It is early days still for these ideas and we need monitoring and evaluation in the areas where strong user involvement is being pioneered to begin to assess its true potential.”
- For media inquiries and bids please contact Jessica Bridges Palmer 0207 219 0724
- This is the second of a short series of Reports on the Committee’s inquiry into Public Services: Putting People First. One of the key themes of this inquiry has been how public services could be improved by involving the people that use them in their design and delivery.
- The full report will be available on the Committee’s website at www.parliament.uk/pasc
Committee Membership: Tony Wright (Chairman) (Lab) (Cannock Chase), Mr David Burrowes (Con) (Enfield, Southgate), Paul Flynn (Lab) (Newport West), David Heyes (Lab) (Ashton under Lyne), Kelvin Hopkins (Lab) (Luton North), Mr Ian Liddell-Grainger (Con) (Bridgewater), Julie Morgan (Lab) (Cardiff North), Mr Gordon Prentice (Lab) (Pendle), Paul Rowen (Lib Dem) (Rochdale), Charles Walker (Con) (Broxbourne), Jenny Willott (Lib Dem) (Cardiff Central)
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