'Little improvement' in public services despite €6bn spent during the Celtic Tiger years
Published 14/12/2011 | 05:00
A MASSIVE €6bn increase in spending during the Celtic Tiger did not lead to any improvement in people's impressions about the quality of public services.
The Government has been told to focus on customer care instead of money issues when it comes to public service reform.
A major study from the ESRI notes that there was a huge increase in spending on health, education and pensions between 2003 and 2007. But it found that despite billions in extra spending, the public did not feel that services had substantially improved.
The 'Quality of Public Services: Irish Public Perceptions and Implications for Renewal' report found there was a "disappointing lack" of perceived improvements.
"The results suggested that perceptions of the quality of public services tend to be low in Ireland, relative to other European countries," it found.
"This may partly be due to rising expectations in the context of the extended period of economic growth in Ireland."
Each respondent was asked to rate on a 10-point scale the quality of five public services -- health, education, pensions, public transport, and care for older adults.
The data used in the analysis came from the European Quality of Life Survey, which covered 31 countries and was carried out in 2007. It was compared with the same responses gathered four years earlier from 1,000 individuals.
Compared with 2003 results, the perceived quality of the education system increased from 6.9 to 7.3. But there was a decline in the health service (5.3 to 4.9) and of the pensions system (6.1 to 5.7).
The lower results came despite a huge increase in public spending over the period. The pensions bill rose from €3bn to €4bn between 2003 and 2007, while spending also increased on education (€7bn to almost €9bn) and health (€11bn to almost €14bn).
The study also found:
• Irish people rated the delivery of three out of the five public services as being below the European average.
• These were health services (4.9 compared with an average of 6.6), public transport (5.7 compared with 6.5) and elderly services (5.6 compared with 5.9).
• Delivering the state pension was slightly above the average (5.7 compared with 5.5), while education scored highest (7.3 compared with 6.7).
"The Government commitment to 'customer focus' needs to be given real content by involving the public, especially the least well-off, in the design of public services and in monitoring quality," study author Dr Dorothy Watson said.
"International research shows that delivering good-quality public services is as much about how the service is designed and delivered as it is about the amount spent."
The ESRI warned that 'economically vulnerable' people were more likely to believe that public services were not working for them, which was "disturbing", given that they were the most reliant on the State to deliver essential services.
People classified as economically vulnerable gave lower ratings to all services except education. This was the case even after the ESRI allowed for some factors including difficulties in accessing health care, lack of public transport and the tendency to give generally negative ratings.
Other recommendations involved carrying out regular customer service surveys, compiling performance indicators to see how service delivery has improved and better communication between customers and state agencies.