If councils don't inform citizens what services they are entitled to receive then the public are unlikely to access these services. Some cash strapped councils may be tempted to cut back on efforts to increase public access to their services to save money. This is wrong. We need to reform the way we provide services and we need to reduce the number of taxpayer services provided. However, we should not frustrate people accessing the few essential services local authorities continue to provide.
Providing public services costs taxpayers’ money. Our national deficit is over £150 billion per annum. To cut this deficit we need to provide public services more efficiently, provide fewer services or control demand for the services we do provide. When a service is provided free at the point of use it is difficult to control demand related costs. Some citizens will choose not to access services they believe they should not receive. Others will not be aware of what services they are entitled to. However, many citizens when informed they are entitled to access a service will choose to do so.
In the private sphere demand is controlled by a price mechanism related to what people are able and willing to pay. In contrast, local authorities are restricted in their ability to charge usage fees so this means of controlling demand is denied to them. In an age of austerity some councils could come to rely on citizens failing to access services (to which they are entitled) to balance the books.
Councils face a dilemma. If they publicise the services they provide then uptake will increase and consequently costs. If they don’t publicise the services they provide then people in need could suffer.
Before seeking to increase uptake of services councils need to consider if the service is genuinely essential.
Without a radical drive to increase efficiency in public service delivery and to agree on a new more appropriate level of public service provision we could soon face the de-facto introduction of the following:
- A don’t ask, don’t tell policy to informing citizens of their entitlements. Councils could resort to directing their staff that if citizens don’t ask what they are entitled to then they are not to be informed.
- Declining service provision for all citizens. By wasting money providing services people don’t want or that are non essential we reduce the money available to provide those that are needed.
Local authorities need to radically rethink what services they provide and how. If people are entitled to access services, we should not rely on them failing to do so to cut costs. Allowing a paper commitment to provide some of the more dubious public services to continue is a gift to our Labour opponents. It gives them a base on which to rebuild Big Government.
The views expressed above are my personal views and not those of my employer or any other organisation with which I am associated.