|Issue No. 271
|08 July 2005
Interview: Battle Stations
Unions: The Workers, United
Politics: The Lost Weekend
Industrial: Truth or Dare
History: A Class Act
Economics: The Numbers Game
International: Blonde Ambition
Training: The Trade Off
Review: Bore of the Worlds
Poetry: The Beaters Medley
The Locker Room
Do It Yourself?
Vale the Eight Hour Day
The vision thing
Campaign Pushes Right Buttons
Itís Time to Punt the PM
Bob Each Way
Hits the Mark
Reforms not an Erosion
Letters to the Editor
Donít Call Me Customer
Is the word customer an appropriate label for a government to place upon its citizens; or is this just another subtle way in which bureaucrats and politicians continually but fruitlessly attempt another deceit of the electorate; or is this the ultimate privatisation of community resources that of our government?
If this is the reality in local government, this context being - Penrith City Council - I would bring to their attention these words attributed to Abraham Lincoln.
"You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time."
This behaviour was brought to my attention, when recently I queried the public availability of policies and procedures adopted by Penrith City Council - policies which are required to ensure a consistent application of the Local Government Act 1993 by local government bodies an Act which is effectively the foundation of Local Government within the state of New South Wales.
In an endeavour to obtain a somewhat objective view rather than rely on my own somewhat jaundiced experiences of local government, I comprehensively sought out other views and experiences, from a myriad of sources.
One source that did attract my attention, perhaps through its reinforcement of my own opinions , but credible nonetheless , was the address 'Does the Word 'Customer' Make Sense in the World of Local Government?' by Dr Ted Johns, Chairman of the Institute of Customer Service UK.
In this address Dr Johns, referred to arguments as to the dangers of the word 'customer' being used in local government as promulgated by Professor John Stewart, a one time facilitator of the Institute of Local Government Studies at the University of Birmingham.
Professor Stewart, points out that in truth - there is little or no choice as to the services provided by local government, and the misuse of the term 'Customer' gives a false sense of choice, and I for one would be hard to convince that this was not the intent of these local government bodies who spend ratepayers money on glossy expensive Customer Service Charters which are - and I say with confidence - at best a nonsense and at worst a confidence trick on the electorate.
Would this money not be better spent on actually providing a choice of service or even a service?
One example given in this address was that of railways calling passengers customers, when in fact the majority have no other alternative method of travel.
Another novel example given in this address was:
"Second, local authorities could create more choice for their 'customers' (let's call them that, at least for the time being) if they produced some sort of vouchers enabling taxpayers to select from a cafeteria range of, say, social benefits, like respite holidays, meals-on-wheels, and so forth.
"After all, 'customers' can already choose whether to patronize the municipal library service and can choose their own books when they do so: why cannot this principle be extended elsewhere? If the libraries were run like some local authority departments, on the other hand, then even the freedom to select your own books would be severely curtailed.
"According to the bureaucratic approach, you would be told what books you would be reading each week, and simply sent them through the post. If the professional model were adopted, you would have to make an appointment to see a professionally-qualified librarian, who would ask you questions about your personal habits (your sleeping patterns, your diet, your holiday plans for 2005, and even, as an afterthought, your literary tastes), and then issue you with some books considered suitableā. It is very unlikely that these books would be those that you would have volunteered to read." (www.egovmonitor.com/)
In summation, while I do use the services of Penrith City Council, I do so, as a ratepayer, as an investor, as a stakeholder, a shareholder and as an intrinsic part of this council, with my participation being entirely at my whim as is the participation of the other 178232 * residents of Penrith, I do not purchase these goods or services as a client, customer of some privatized conglomerate.
In short, I find the word customer used in this manner inappropriate and offensive.
Emu Plains, NSW
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