Headlines: November 28th, 2001

Better public services must start from a better understanding of users and their needs, expectations and behaviours. This applies at the outset of policy development as well as in front line service delivery, according to new report by the Public Sector Productivity Panel (PSPP).The PSPP was established as part of the 1998 Pre-Budget Report process to advise on ways of improving the productivity and efficiency of Government Departments and public sector bodies.The report takes a new look at customer focus, in particular the need to shift radically the whole of an organisation – strategy, policy aas well as front line delivery – towards service users.

There are four key principles outlined in the report, which public service providers should address:
– understanding the customer – who they are, what they want, how they act at present and how they could act in future
– building operations around the customer – making not just frontline staff but everyone is customer-focussed
– making sure that all parties with an interest in better services – the wider public, business, voluntary sector and representative groups, understand and support each other, while managing the risks involved in close relationships
– make best use of customer knowledge and relationships in order to improve performance.

The report finds that the quality of front-line public services such as health care or vehicle licensing are compared increasingly with other service experiences such as banking or shopping, and that there is an increased expectation of high quality public services that match those provided elsewhere.

Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Andrew Smith said in reponse to the report: ‘We remain committed to improving the quality of public services throughout the delivery chain. But improving delivery is a limited benefit if we are not delivering what people really need.’