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3 February 2023updated 12 Oct 2023 11:05am

Why we need a Minister for Citizen Experience

Modern public services need a champion for the people who use them

By The Serco Institute

What do Amazon, Rolls-Royce, and Pets At Home all have in common? In one way or another, each of these market-leading businesses has a team, headed by an individual, dedicated to their customers’ experience. The UK Government, in contrast, with a client base pushing 70 million people, has never had a central team, let alone a devoted figurehead. Why not, when the government has so many clients to whom it provides critical services?

A new poll from the Serco Institute and Survation indicates that the British public might agree. An overwhelming 62 per cent of respondents support the appointment of a minister focused on citizens’ experiences of public services.

The notion of a Minister for Citizen Experience may elicit a certain scepticism. Do we really need another minister, the number of which has proliferated in recent decades? Increasingly, several countries are answering this question with a resounding yes. France, Canada, Australia, and the UAE all have a minister whose portfolio focuses on how to improve the citizen’s experience of public services.

A devoted minister would not be a mere hat-tip to an emerging theme within public policy. Rather, the position would represent a widespread cultural shift whereby the citizen is not a passive user of top-down public services, but instead an active player in their design and creation – decentralisation at its most refined. In democratic societies, where individual taxpayers fund a significant proportion of spending, the citizen should have more agency to determine how their money is spent. General elections, held every few years, are insufficient vehicles for the accrual of intelligence that can inform design on a service-by-service basis.

Citizens have growing expectations: they want goods and services quicker, more personalised, and without hassle. These sentiments were reflected in our poll. We asked a representative sample of the UK to indicate their satisfaction across eleven aspects of public service delivery. In only three of these eleven aspects – cleanliness (50 per cent), safety (57 per cent), and ease of access (51 per cent) – were 50 per cent or more respondents satisfied. The three aspects at the bottom end of our satisfaction league table were personalisation (33 per cent), integration with other public services (38 per cent), and cost to the user (38 per cent).

The aspects of public service experience where citizens are least satisfied, personalisation and integration with other public services, are those which are most complex to deliver, need the most reform, and which require a guiding mind across government. More effective personalisation and integration, if implemented with creativity, collaborative spirit, and with the citizen in mind, would result in streamlined services at less cost to the taxpayer – addressing the third area of low satisfaction, cost to the user.

The poll reveals that citizens’ experiences of public services are often misaligned with their priorities. In part due to a culture of public services in the UK being built for citizens rather than with citizens. To use the old adage, “the customer is always right”. But no one in government is responsible for collecting customer or citizen views and making them a central plank of public service design and delivery. This would be the Minister for Citizen Experience’s primary role. Engagement would extend beyond individual citizens to incorporate organisations such as trade unions, citizen advocacy groups, and businesses involved in the delivery of public services.

The means by which the minister engages with citizens would need to ensure that constructive views are captured. Focus groups, real-time feedback generated whilst the citizen is using a service, and newly formed citizens’ assemblies chaired by the minister are creative ways to elicit insights. The minister would sit at the centre of government and each department would have a minister with responsibility for citizen experience within their portfolio.

61 per cent of people want their views to be heard in the design and delivery of public services. However, just 39 per cent would give up their time to help policymakers during the process. The appetite to be heard is there, but citizens are often unwilling to engage practically. This is not the fault of the citizen. The channels available to shape public services can feel unclear and fragmented. New channels, which engage citizens’ appetite to feed their experience into policymaking, would not only improve public service design but also give citizens what they want.

The political party to embrace a Minister for Citizen Experience might just benefit at the ballot box, but is there the political will, long-term outlook, and investment available, particularly at a time when the government faces a myriad of huge challenges? If the answer is yes, citizens satisfied with their experience of public services might just afford governments their continued support.

Visit or follow us on Twitter @SercoInstitute to find out more.

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