London: The UK Government should be much clearer about what it means by choice in public services, according to a new report published today by the MCA (Management Consultancies Association).
And ministers should launch a massive campaign — through new Choice Concordats — to increase the information that is provided to citizens, explain the available choices and improve understanding of their consequences.
The MCA's report is a contribution to the debate sparked by David Boyle's review for the Cabinet Office into the barriers to choice in public services. Choice in Public Services: Making Choice Real is based on the insights and ideas of a host of the country's leading experts from within MCA member firms, and was written by Paul Connolly.
The report highlights two key proposals.
First, it will help policy-makers and the public if everyone is clear about what types of choice are being offered and why. The MCA paper suggests a new typology revolving around concepts such as 'horizontal' and 'vertical' choices. Horizontal choices are where users can select from different suppliers of a particular service (e.g. choosing a new GP or school) and vertical choices are where people choose from a menu of service options that are available.
The paper also discusses the role of personalised budgets, commissioning and the expression of preferences.
Alan Leaman, Chief Executive of the MCA said, "Reform of public services is be-devilled by the fact that the same words are used to convey very different meanings, even within the same government documents. While the language we propose may need to be adapted, these clearer distinctions will help create good policy, dispel muddled thinking and increase public understanding and support for reform."
Second, choice involves reciprocal responsibilities. The public may need to share greater personal information in order to access more personalised services. The MCA proposes a series of Choice Concordats, in which the citizen's rights and obligations are explained far more clearly.
Naresh Mohindra, Tata Consulting Services, said, "If people want a service that is personalised, they must be upfront about disclosing information about their circumstances and needs."
Alan Leaman added, "At the moment, choices are too often hidden from view, and the comparative data which we need to make sense of them is not available. Information, relentlessly offered, is vital if people are to make effective choices — or even to make choices at all. And it must be explained how citizens can benefit from the choices that are provided."
Phil Dungey, Atos Consulting, commented, "Information on government websites often reflects government structures, not the needs of users."
The report also highlights examples of where management consultants have worked with government departments to deliver better choices to the users of public services — and often saved money as well for the taxpayer.