Citizen consumers? Using public services is not like shopping

r customers.

The findings support the idea that people are becoming more assertive in their relationships with public services less deferential and more willing to express their needs and to challenge providers. And they illustrate the many ways in which service providers are responding to this shift, helping users know more about decisions, and to be involved. Professor Clarke said: "Our findings show that both providers and users consistently view public services as different from commercial transactions, insisting that the process is 'not like shopping'.

"This phrase was used repeatedly in the interviews. It captures the view of the people we met that public services are, and should be, centred on ongoing, personal relationships, rather than being anonymous, one-off transactions."

The report argues that this does not mean people are uncritical. Many want improvements but have mixed views about whether consumerism and consumer choice can deliver better services.

When it came to the prospect of more choice, users were more positive than providers about likely benefits, with the police staff expressing the greatest concern about its impact. However, users also worried that increased choice and voice for users would give an advantage to those best able to work the system, or with the loudest voices.

They wanted to deal with skilled people they could trust, and for services to provide reliable and high quality assistance, attention and support at points of crisis or difficulty in their lives.


Contact: Alexandra Saxon
Economic & Social Research Council

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