01/12/2003

Public services need greater accountability

A wide-ranging survey of views on public services in Northern Ireland has revealed that the general public believes that there needs to be greater accountability in the current system.

The findings were included in a research report published today by the Review of Public Administration (RPA). The report, which was carried out by Research and Evaluation Services (RES), is based on the views and experiences of the general public drawn throughout Northern Ireland. RES organised 24 focus groups attended by 282 people over a six-week period during September and October.

The key findings of the report include:
  • Although people are not always familiar with the bureaucratic details of public administration, the general public does have an understanding of the essential concept of public service. Dissatisfaction with standards in public administration reflects their understanding of what public services ought to be
  • There is a widespread view among the public that they have an entitlement to quality public services. This derives from the knowledge that they pay for services through rates and taxes, and a view that there is excessive waste and bureaucracy in the system
  • A consequence of the sense of entitlement is the acceptance of the need for accountability. People agree with the need for accountability and say they would like to see it extended as far as possible into public life
  • People feel that they have a right to quick and responsive access to public services, and redress when services are not up to standard
  • Many people have experienced fast, efficient and flexible service from the private sector, where the needs of the customer or client are foremost. There is an expectation that the public sector should be copying these methods of delivering services
  • Although there is some criticism of private sector involvement in public services, the strongest criticism was reserved for privatisation because of the strong perception that it made things worse, that it was poorly managed and supervised, and that it was inefficient and wasteful
  • Centralisation was identified as an important problem, due to the tension between, on the one hand, the demands of a geographically dispersed population, and on the other, the need to create institutions that are modern and efficient
  • There was also concern about the large number of bodies that provide public services. This concern usually rested on anxieties about over-expenditure and waste caused by too many public bodies.
The outcomes of the discussions were collated and analyzed by RES and form the basis for the report.

This research builds on and explores in more detail, previous focus group work carried out by RES on behalf of the RPA team, into the views and experiences of the general public on a series of issues relevant to the Review.

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