Reputation, choice or effectiveness?

Apparently the government is worrying about reputation of local councils:

http://www.idea.gov.uk/idk/core/page.do?pageId=7816238

Given it’s our money they’ll be spending, I wonder whether they should be. Apparently there is no correlation between satisfaction with council services and satisfaction with councils. I can see the argument for making sure people are happy with services: they need to be used to be useful, and people won’t use services they don’t think are any good.

But it’s not as immediately clear why it’s in the public interest for people to be happy with councils. Just as brand campaigns can be a corporate indulgence, shareholder value squandered by the pride of senior management, I can see this campaign squandering public money on a private vanity project.

I guess there might be arguments to the contrary. Maybe people are less engaged with politics if they are dissatisfied with their council. Maybe people commit social crimes if they feel disenfranchised. But if that’s the case, it isn’t clear from this article.

I think this is important. Government should have a clear effectiveness mandate which makes sense to us as shareholders. Even if we devolve executive responsibility to them, we should be clear on why they’re making the decisions they’re making.

A classic example is choice. Government thinks choice is something people want. It’s at the heart of the philosophy of the modern NHS. It’s something councils also think people want. And yet. According to the article quoted above, satisfaction with a council doesn’t really depend on whether they can make their voices heard. According to research I’ve done on perceptions of the NHS, choice isn’t really as important to people as the idea of a reliable safety net. In fact people would rather they were just told where to go, as long as the basic level of care was consistent. Many suspect choice is simply a way of dressing up uneven quality of delivery.

Again, I think if the Government were clearer on exactly why choice is a good thing people might not be so suspicious. Unfortunately, though, I wonder whether they have a reason. To a lot of people it feels like inappropriate import of commercial, consumerist ideas. They might be right.

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