Select Committee on Public Administration Twelfth Report

1  Introduction


1. This is the third of a series of Reports by the Public Administration Select Committee resulting from an inquiry into Public Services: Putting People First.[1] Our inquiry has explored how public services could be improved by taking the perspective of the people that use services and involving them to a greater extent in service design and provision. It follows on from our predecessor Committee's report on Choice, Voice and Public Services,[2] which considered how listening to and learning from the 'voice' of service users could make public services better.

2. We have identified several themes in the course of this inquiry that concern how public services could be more responsive to the people they serve:

  • How government and public services handle and learn from complaints;
  • How public service providers work together with service users in the design and delivery of services; and
  • How standards of service could be set in order to guarantee minimum levels of service provision.

3. This Report examines the lasting impact of the Citizen's Charter programme in improving the standard of public service provision. In the course of our inquiry, we took evidence from Bernard Herdan, author of a government review of the Charter Mark scheme (the Government's national standard for customer service in public service delivery). We also took evidence on minimum standards of public services from Ann Abraham, the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman; David Bell, Permanent Secretary of the then Department for Education and Skills; and Peter Wilkinson of the Audit Commission. In addition, we had the benefit of being able to draw on over fifty memoranda submitted in response to our issues and questions paper.

4. In this Report, we re-examine some of the ideas associated with the Citizen's Charter initiative that retain their relevance today. We look first at the background to the Citizen's Charter programme and its impact on how public services are viewed. We then examine issues of user satisfaction with public services: in particular, the role of the Charter Mark (and its successor scheme, the Customer Service Excellence standard) in ensuring that public services focus on the needs and views of service users. Finally, we consider the idea of 'Public Service Guarantees'—which, like the charters for public services introduced under the Citizen's Charter, would act as a mechanism for setting out the standards of service provision that people can expect from public services.

1   The first Report in the series is our Fifth Report of Session 2007-08, When Citizens Complain, HC 409; the second Report in the series is our Sixth Report of Session 2007-08, User Involvement in Public Services, HC 410; and a volume of oral and written evidence is published as Public Services: Putting People First, Session 2007-08, HC 408 Back

2   Public Administration Select Committee, Fourth Report of Session 2004-05, Choice, Voice and Public Services,HC 49-I Back

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Prepared 22 July 2008