Headlines: June 20th, 2007

CONSUMER WATCHDOG CAUTIONS ENTHUSIASM FOR THIRD SECTOR

 

An in depth study of the third sector delivery of public services by the National Consumer Council found that this approach may not always be the best for consumers. The NCC report ‘Delivering public services: Service users’ experiences of the third sector’, unpicks what tenants, older people and job seekers think about their services.

The findings show that voluntary organisations shine above the rest at delivering some services. For example, in employment, 90 per cent of job seekers trust the service and find that staff go out of their way to help them. The ‘X Factors’, which include being treated with dignity and respect, are what people value.

The third sector was clearly distinctive in delivering employment services, but there was less distinctiveness evident in domiciliary care services for older people and in social housing. There was much more similarity between providers from the different sectors in user experience of domiciliary care services. Third sector providers were distinctive only in relation to public sector providers, and only in respect of two factors: keeping their promises and staff who are prepared to go out of their way to help.

User-responsive delivery was least likely to occur in social housing, where there is little difference in user experience between the two sectors. Third sector housing service providers were, however, distinctive in delivering choice, providing a flexible service, making tenants feel part of the community and offering unexpected extras.

Researchers also found that user experience of the service factors was markedly different in services provided by public sector providers compared with the third and private sectors, suggesting that the public sector has much to learn, especially around providing flexibility and choice.

There appear to be some serious gaps between the kind of service that consumers want, and what is delivered. Providers in all three sectors and services did not excel at delivering the core functions, including doing what they said they would, and solving problems. Service users care deeply about how services are delivered, about the quality and attitude of the staff they have to deal with. Many of these elements were not delivered well, particularly in social housing services and in services delivered by public sector providers.