Think-tank calls for open debate on role of ‘choice’ in local public service delivery
24 July, 2003

In a new pamphlet launched today, independent think-tank, the New Local Government Network (NLGN) has called for a greater understanding of the role that ‘choice’ might play in the delivery of local public services.

Hailed as the motor of reform by government ministers but attacked as a fig leaf for privatisation by its critics, the concept of choice looms large in the debate about modernising public services. The NLGN pamphlet – co-authored by an NLGN research team and Professor Julian Le Grand of LSE – aims to overcome this polarity and provides a more precise definition of choice and its potential to empower citizens and consumers:

    “Efforts to allow users to shape services in different ways have been enhanced in some areas but most public services are still delivered in a traditional way through one provider organisation with no mechanism by which the user could choose alternative providers. Here the power of the public to shape the evolution of the service is often constrained by powerful provider interests. Furthermore, the service is usually offered in one version only, with a ‘take it or leave it’ attitude”.

The pamphlet details three distinct mechanisms of choice at local level – individual choice of provider, collective choice and choice of service options; and in doing so suggests possible ways in which each mechanism could be extended or introduced. Moreover, in relation to choice of service option mechanism and the possibility of generating extra revenue through user charges, NLGN suggests:

    “It might be a way for the local authority to discover what the public really values most so that in time core ‘free’ services can reflect those factors”.

The authors however do not ignore the potential pitfalls associated with enhanced choice, including the possible risks of inequity or problems of implementation. ‘Choosing choice’ is not always an easy option. Yet in a society where the consumer would be King and public services face multiple new challenges, policymakers cannot afford to ignore the enormous benefits that improved choice can bring:

    “Public services that are not responsive to consumer and citizen demands and do not evolve in accordance with those wishes, will not be successful or valued”.

The pamphlet is the first output of NLGN’s Making Choices project – NLGN’s main research project for 2003/4, in the course of which case studies are being explored where services and quality of life have been enhanced by a local authority giving people greater choice. Drawing on this case work, as well other examples from the UK and overseas, the project will offer practical guidance on how increased user choice can be successfully put in place and managed. As a think-tank rooted in local issues and the bringing together of relevant knowledge from the private, public and voluntary sectors, NLGN is ideally placed to carry out this important piece of work.

FREE copies of ‘Choice – What role can it play in helping local public services evolve?’ are available at www.nlgn.org.uk

Media enquiries to Ian Parker – 020 7357 0116 / ian@nlgn.org.uk

Notes for Editors:
The New Local Government Network (NLGN) is an independent think-tank, seeking to transform public services, revitalise local political leadership and empower local communities.

The team behind both the ‘Choice’ pamphlet and NLGN’s broader ‘Making Choices’ research project are:

  • Natalie Arend, Research Officer, NLGN
  • Dan Corry, Director, NLGN
  • Warren Hatter, Head of Research, NLGN
  • Professor Julian Le Grand, LSE
  • Adam Lent, Independent Consultant

    For further details on the ‘Making Choices’ project or NLGN’s wider work programme, contact Warren Hatter on 020 7357 0013 or warren.hatter@nlgn.org.uk