The Futility Monster

He'll pointlessly derive more enjoyment out of your resources than you

Rating Public Services: Who Benefits?

Posted by The Futility Monster on December 21, 2009 @ 10:31

Now this is the kind of report card I can believe in!

There is something about every aspect of life these days that makes me wanna tell the world what I think about it.

It’s hard to escape it. I wouldn’t be a blogger otherwise. It is the very motivation for thinking people want to hear my tedious opinions.

All around us are constant requests for our feedback and our reviews. Most e-commerce websites would be lost without them. Who hasn’t bought a certain product over another on the strength of a better star rating, or a more favourable set of reviews? And who hasn’t experienced the trepidation of being the first one to buy a product that has the ever-worrying “no rating”?

To join in with this circus of opining, the government has its own collection of report cards, including councils, schools and hospitals.

Only, there is an important difference.

Capitalism is all about choice. In the perfect market, the consumer has complete, accurate information on all available products, and all competing products are doing so on a fair basis, allowing new entrants to join in the party with no barriers.

No market is perfect, of course, but we do our best, and review systems, enhanced by the power of the internet, are a useful tool for allowing the consumer to make an informed choice. By and large, they work. Of course, they can be manipulated by savvy PR activity, but for our purposes, they help more than they hinder.

Public services, however, are not about choice. It is not possible to subscribe to a different council for their services. For the most part, nobody really cares about which hospital they’re going to when they’re having a heart attack. And even for less urgent treatment, people want their nearest hospital; and in any event, competition in public services leads to needless, expensive duplication.

The public service ethic is not about competition. But that has been the goal of successive governments for decades. The hope being that making schools and hospitals battle for “customers” (you’ve got to laugh) will encourage them to work harder and provide a better service to people.

To try to complete this market, the government has done its best to tell us how likely you are to die if you visit a certain hospital. Or how likely we are to get MRSA or whatever nasty bug is in vogue this year. Some of these initiatives have worked in the sense that they shame services into improving. But that’s not the same as competition.

None of these exercises are of any real value to the taxpayer.

So it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the Labour government is going to do some more

We’re now going to be told, by government assessment, whether our area has a good rating for “civic activism”. And if we really do like our neighbours around here.

Absolute nonsense, of course, but you can already hear estate agents throughout the land winding up their bullshit machines. This desirable three-bedroomed semi-detached house has a superb sense of neighbourly belonging, with a 76% recycling rate and zero hypodermic syringes per average square hectare.

Hmm. As with all “choice” in public services, who do you think really benefits?

The poor? The ones who need it most?

Or the affluent middle-class?

Hold on, I’m hearing some breaking news about an incident involving a bear in a woods. Back tomorrow…

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