Call for clearer choice in public services

The MCA has told government ministers that they need to be much clearer about the public’s choices in public services.  A new paper from the MCA shows that confusion about what choices are being offered depresses take up by the public and creates expectations that often cannot be met. It also points out that some initiatives that are labelled as ‘choice’ are probably not really choices at all.

Choice in public services: Making choice real is the product of a recent roundtable of leading management consultants from MCA member firms. It has been submitted to the Cabinet Office’s review of public service reform that is being led by David Boyle.

The MCA has recommended that the government draws up a clear typology of the choices that are available for users of public services. It suggests concepts such as horizontal choice (the choice between different providers) and vertical choice (the ability to choose from different options put forward by providers). The paper argues that this sort of clarity is crucial to ensure that policy is well-understood and effective. Too much current thinking is muddled or poorly understood.

The paper goes onto to argue that a series of ‘Choice Concordats’ would help to explain the choices that are available and, crucially, provide the comparative data that citizens would like to use when making their decisions. Existing choices are currently often hidden from view. And the information that people need to make sense of them is frequently not available or hard to find.

The debate about growing choice in public services is now centre-stage, and the MCA expects to see further policy changes in the next few years. All of our leading politicians have said that this is a policy that they support.

But this level of agreement and political consensus often means that further work is need to turn aspirations into reality. The policy is more nuanced than politicians often make out, and the implications of offering more choices – for providers of services as well as for citizens – are not thought through.

Management consultancies have delivered many of the projects and reforms that make choices real and successful. This paper argues that government can make a lot of progress in the near future to achieve its vision of greater choices for all citizens.