Of course we want choice; don’t we?

The myth that we all want choice when it comes to Public Sector Services is draining resources and energy out the system…

I don’t want choice when it comes to who picks my rubbish up, or who deals with my tax returns (sure, I’d like to choose not to do these at all), or who I register my vehicle details with, or where I get my health services from. Yes, I would like options about when and where I access and use these services based upon what will suit me best; “would it be more convenient at this time or that time and which of these options is nearest and easiest to get to”…but I don’t want choice based on differences in quality or on which option is better than another…that’s not real choice, that’s Hobsons choice.

CrossroadsI guess what we all want from the Public Sector is consistently high quality services…dare I say it, the kind of consistent high quality services that a well managed franchise in the Private Sector would provide. We all pay the same rates of tax on our wages and VAT on our goods and services, so it feels entirely logical to expect the Public Sector services we pay for to be consistent in what they provide and how they provide it. Mind you, it would be an interesting experiment if the individual taxes we paid were adjusted to take account of the quality of the services we used?

One size does fit all (well OK, most). Public Sector services are often criticized because they don’t meet the needs of people in a particular location or with particular needs. This criticism is often entirely justified; but don’t fall into the trap of thinking that such services are suited to anyone else’s needs either. The commonly shared observation that “one size won’t fit all” should more often than not be expressed as “this size doesn’t actually fit anyone“. But this is more a reflection of the nature of Public Sector services in general because most of them are simply not designed against the demands of the consumer, they are designed to suit the needs of the provider. Think of Amazon, Tesco Home Shopping, First Direct Banking…these services have empowered many people in rural areas and given them access to products and a level of service that was previously unimaginable. They are consistent and they do not differentiate; there is not a special Amazon service for rural areas…it is just a fantastically high quality consistent service that was designed to meet the needs of as many customers as possible; it was designed against demand.

DuplicationFor the Public Sector, trying to offer choice at the point of consumption will simply create confusion by the fragmenting of communications and duplication of effort and cost…setting providers against each other in this way will suck resources away from delivery and into back office admin and promotional activity. When it comes to Publicly Funded services I don’t think competition at the point of consumption is a good use of tax-payers money…can you imagine having to ring your preferred choice of Fire Service to come and put your fire out; me neither.

So if we don’t really want a choice of Public Sector services at the point of consumption, then how can we get the benefits of consistently high quality services that the presence of competition so obviously provides? I think its about creating competition between service providers at the point at which contracts to deliver Public Sector services are awarded. As an employee within the National Health Service I welcome the increased competition that is driving us all to raise our game. I have a simple goal in my life, and that is to be part of something brilliant that makes a difference. “He bumbled along and helped deliver mediocrity” is not an inscription that will sit well on my headstone.


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