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CHAMPION THE CONSUMER TO BUILD BETTER PUBLIC SERVICES, SAYS MCCARTNEY

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Public sector workers must be advocates for citizens and ambassadors for public services, cabinet office minister I...
Public sector workers must be advocates for citizens and ambassadors for public services, cabinet office minister Ian McCartney said today.

Speaking at the first meeting of the recently appointed consumer champions, who are responsible for giving consumers a voice at the heart of government, Mr McCartney said that champions must:

- Transform the public sector culture so that what users want is uppermost in service plans. Managers must recognise the consumer focus as a key tool in improving services. Frontline staff must be fully trained, and rewarded for meeting their customers' needs;

- Provide an impetus for change, using teams of mystery shoppers, complaints and surveys to improve services. The Employment Service is already using mystery shoppers and surveys to measure service quality and customer satisfaction. The results are used to make further improvements;

- Ask users - businesses or individuals - what they want. This includes consulting the public about their expectations about services and their priorities for improvement. The results must be communicated to staff and customers alike; and

- Agree new customer-focused targets to ensure that departments deliver services which reflect the real needs of people. Inland Revenue's business direction is driven by the needs of users, and they already have a departmental target for customer satisfaction measured by an annual survey of all key customer groups.

Mr McCartney said: 'Consumer focus is about putting yourself in your customer's shoes. It is about being an advocate for the citizen and an ambassador for the service. Consumers will benefit as their views are used to help design and improve the quality of their public services.

'But getting customers' views is only the first step. We must consult effectively; to listen to what people want, and use their ideas and experience to transform the way we provide public services.

'Real consultation should make it as easy as possible for people to put their views forward. But it should not stop there. We must turn consultation into action.

'The consumer focus is about cultural change and is a key vehicle in our drive for change and modernisation in the public sector. It is designed to build on the best of what is there already.'

NOTES

1. The new departmental consumer champions were announced as a joint initiative between the Cabinet Office and the Treasury on 9 February 2000 - see press notice CAB 062/00.

2. The champions:

- sit at executive board level and have the authority to drive through change;

- have responsibility for ensuring that customers' views are translated into practical improvements to public services; and

- ensure that the changes made to public services have real meaning and impact and that they are part of a long term strategy of improvement.

3. The consumer champion is just one of a package of measures which aims to make public services more responsive to their customers. Public services will also:

- identify user priorities and examine consumer satisfaction by carrying out regular research and consultation with consumers;

- take account of consumer views at every level in the organisation both in the design and delivery of services; and

- provide feedback to consumers on improvements made in annual reports.

4. An initial report on the consumer focus will be published in the Spring. This will include the baseline results from the people's panel survey and examples of how key public services are introducing the programme.

The first full report will then be published in the autumn. This will build on the initial report and include a summary of individual targets that have been agreed in service delivery agreements. Future reports will be published each year showing how public services are meeting consumer targets and improving the quality of the service they provide.

5. On 12 April 2000, Mr McCartney published a draft code of practice on written consultation. The code sets out best practice for departments conducting written consultation exercises. Copies of the draft code are available on the Internet at:

www.cabinet-office.gov.uk/servicefirst/2000/consult/code/content.htm

6. A full list of the consumer champions is available at: www.cabinet-office.gov.uk/servicefirst/2000/consumer/consumerfocus.htm

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