This blog is mainly about the governance and future of policing and crime services. (Police & Crime Commissioners feature quite a lot.) But there are also posts about the wider justice system. And because I am town councillor and political activist, local & national issues are covered a little, as well.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

This is what you get when you call citizens 'customers'...

News broke this morning that a local council is charging residents £7.50 (or 4 for £30) for sandbags to help protect their homes from flood damage (c/o Tom Pride's blog). No doubt this council is strapped for cash and I would expect has trained staff to think of the citizens and taxpayers that they serve as "customers". So it comes as no surprise really that they would see sandbags in this crisis as something of an income generation opportunity. After all, isn't that what you do with customers: you charge them for the services you provide and make a profit.


Except, just imagine what would happen if all public services did this? You are burgled and the police officer arrives at your door with a hand held credit card reader to take payment before any investigation happens. Indeed, there is probably already a call out charge to pay. Or you are raped and you are later sent a bill for "DNA and other forensic services"... Am I joking? Yes, I hope so. But...

I have blogged before on why "customer" is such a stupid word to describe the complex relationships that public services have with their citizens / users / taxpayers / voters / partners / community representatives etc etc etc.

And here today in the middle of flooding and storm crises, we have a local council charging people for the help that they need, for the help that (I guess) they thought they had already paid their council tax for, because some smart person thought "we can recoup our costs here and maybe even make a bit on top". Such good customer service... 

Now I am all for income generation and other creative ways to generate resources for public services. But this has to be done in a principled way!

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