Are the Concepts of ‘Consumerism' and ‘Consumer Choice' Relevant to the Problem of Improving Public Services.

Topics: Decision making, Public sector, Decision making software Pages: 6 (2204 words) Published: April 29, 2006
In order to determine whether consumerism and consumer choice are relevant to the problem of improving public services, consumerism and consumer choice need to be evaluated individually. Thus both these two concepts will be analysed in greater detail in the following paragraphs, thus allowing for a conclusion to be drawn as to whether they do improve public services or in fact hinder the public service.

According to Potter, ‘Consumerism attempts to redress the imbalance of power that exists between those who produce goods and services, and those for whom they are provided.' (Potter, Public Administration, pg149). Thus it is argued that currently in the public service sector the imbalance in power, often results in those producing and providing the services having more power than those who use and need them. Therefore the concept of consumerism was established in order to combat the imbalance of power. As consumerism is based on redressing the imbalance of power, five key factors were produced in order to help with the redress of power, these five points being, access, choice, information, redress and representation. All these five points will be analysed in greater detail, in order to understand how the concept of consumerism impacts on the public service sector.

Due to the nature of certain public services, deciding who shall have access to each service can not be placed in the hands of the consumer and therefore should be seen as a political responsibility. Thus this needs to be managed effectively as to ensure only those that need the services have access to them. Potter also argues that ‘those who pay for public services and those who benefit from them are not necessarily the same people; the cardinal consumer principle of access cannot be translated into an automatic consumer right.' (Potter, Public Administration, pg151). As the decision to who has access to the services lies in the hands of the politicians, it is essential that the correct decision are made, thus it is argued that all criteria used to base the decision on who shall have access to the services, should be brought out into the open allowing for public access. This is needed in order to allow the consumer to evaluate the criteria used to base the decision and also allows the consumer to appeal against any decision of denial of access to a service. By improving access to the criteria for a service, it provides the consumer with more power to make effective appeals for the services and allows the consumer to challenge existing criteria used in order to make the service available to more of the public.

As seen in the concept of access, public services are not an automatic right and thus this concept also applies to the factor of choice. Thus this does not mean that consumers have no choice at all within the public service, just certain services may not provide the option of choice and thus the consumer may not be able to exercise their right to choice. This is clearly evident in the provision of prison services, the end user of the service will obliviously not be given the right to chose if they go to prison or not. ‘The provision of public services usually involves redistributing costs and benefits within society, individual consumer choice cannot be the sole driving force that dictates who benefits and who pays'. (Potter, Public Administration, pg 151). The concept of consumer choice will be discussed in greater detail further on in the essay.

In order for consumers to make well informed decisions about the services they may wish to use they need sound and reliable information, in order to make the correct decision. It is essential that the consumer receives the correct detailed information about the services, as often the people that use the public services are in a position of needing help and thus a decision based on incorrect or lack of information, could prove to be costly for the consumer. It is argued that if the consumer is provided...

Bibliography: Books
K Isaac-Henry, C Painter and C Barnes, Management in the Public Sector - Challenge and Change 2nd Edition, International Thomson Business Press, 1997
N Flynn, A consumer orientated culture?, Public money and management, Spring/Summer 1988.
J Potter, Consumerism and the public sector: How well does the coat fit?, Public administration, Summer 1998.
M Barnes and D Prior, Spoilt for choice? How consumerism can disempower public service users, Public money and management, July/September 1995.
J E Fountain, Paradoxes of public sector customer services, Governance, January 2001.
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