Every so often when I am at an event I hear someone say that the public sector cannot choose its customers. Indeed I have said the same thing myself on many occasions. It has been one of the key
for me between the private and public sectors. I have always thought that the private sector can ultimately say no.
I was sitting at the the Scottish Socitm meeting in Stirling Council when one of the speakers said it again. This time I wondered if it was true and can the public sector choose its customers.
Of course the short answer is no. As Richard pointed out the point of of the state is to provide services to everyone and often it is the only body that can.
Yet the public sector makes choices everyday and you cannot make choice without choosing. Does it in effect choose which customers it really serves and others which it just tolerates. It offers differential service levels to provide for those whose need is greatest or to discourage unnecessary provision. But who decides? Someone must choose.
As Nicola pointed out, the real question is about the ability of people to choose where they get services from. Users of the public services have very limited choice yet they have the ultimate choice to use them or not. Many people are very agnostic about their local authority which offers some universal services yet provides many of its services to a very small percentage of its residents.
So my question still stands. Can the public sector, in effect, use its service supply standards to influence the market? I think the long answer is yes. By providing poor service it will turn demand off. People will give up and go away, or find somewhere else to get what they want. This may well lead to a more dynamic market, however, which in the long run will leave the public sector to deliver what the market cannot. In the end this may be a good thing.
The Public sector can and does choose its customers, day in and day out.