351.5 The absent consumer values in the marketisation of European public services: Results of a cross-national citizens-survey

Thursday, August 2, 2012: 3:30 PM
Faculty of Economics, TBA
Oral Presentation
Guy VAN GYES , HIVA Research Institute for Work and Society, K.U.Leuven, Leuven, Belgium
Sem VANDEKERCKHOVE , HIVA Research Institute for Work and Society, KULEUVEN, Leuven, Belgium
For the past 20 years, the EU has embraced the belief that ‘marketisation’ will improve public services. This approach assumes that citizens act as consumers. The theory goes that ‘choice’ is (partly) introduced as a response to the new attitudes adopted by modern citizen-consumers.

This European policy perspective formed the framework of a citizens’ survey carried out in six countries (Austria, Belgium, Germany, Poland, Sweden and UK) on 3 public services (postal services, local public transport, and electricity) in 2007-2008.

In the paper the survey results are presented about whether citizens adapt these consumer attitudes towards the public services in question.

The main results can be summarised as follows. The choice paradigm is not a general attitude. The results indicate that more citizens are pushed to acknowledge choice by preceding reforms rather than consumers demanding, ‘choice’-based reforms. The critical consumer paradigm of ‘choice’ is furthermore socially and paradoxically ‘biased’. Throughout the study clear social demarcations were detected between ‘haves’ (higher educated, bigger income and higher professional status) and ‘have nots’ (lower educated, lower income and lower professional status). People which show the lowest satisfaction with the services also show the least interest in choice behaviour and practice.

The paper concludes that the modern ‘citizen-consumer’ who expects and demands ‘choice’ from these public services is still largely a policy fallacy, especially at the lower ends of society. At the more abstract level of economic theory, we can also read the results as a cry for safeguarding the public nature of these services. The public nature then seems to be less a question of state involvement or state ownership but much rather lies in these services’ immanent character: They have to be publicly available and universally guaranteed without much private consumer decision making.