Headlines: March 4th, 1998

Public Service Minister Dr David Clark has announced a shift in the Government’s strategy to modernise public services. Public bodies will continue to seek ideas for improving efficiency and effectiveness from within the organisation, but in addition, the views of service users will be canvassed to highlight where improvement is needed.A range of research methods will be used to find out views from large-scale surveys to more focused in-depth work. A 5000 strong People’s Panel is being set up with representatives from all parts of the UK and different walks of life.

This move to user driven services has been in progress for some time. Many central and local government bodies carry out user satisfaction surveys. At the start of the year it was announced that the health service would set up a comprehensive performance assessment process. There will be a measuring framework which will produce a balanced scorecard covering effectiveness, efficiency and quality. The quality measures will come from an annual survey of some 100,000 patients. Their views will be sought on how well they think consultants and GPs treated them. Patients will also be asked about the quality of hospital food and whether they received the appropriate level of painkillers.

Involving users in this way will overcome many of the criticisms about targets set by internal processes. The targets of Executive Agencies are particularly prone to concentrate on the functions they perform and the costs involved, with quality represented at the margins. User involvement should lead to a more balanced set of targets.

As service user views become apparent in the different areas there will be a shift in the balance of power. This will not be confined to empowerment of users. Information is power wherever it becomes available. Ministers, Councillors, and members of boards of NHS Trusts and Quangos will gain power from this development by being better informed to ask more searching questions about the management of their organisations. This has significant implications for governance of public service organisations.