Monday, October 26, 2009

Customer or Citizen

I notice, upon viewing some correspondence between officers and a resident here in Hardwick, that we refer to people as customers of the Council.

While I see, on one level the logic of this – the need to instill modern ideas of service into Council employees – I am wondering whether the language of “customers” is the right one to be used in the public space going forward.

A time in which we need to see ourselves less as “consumers” of public services, more as citizens with responsibilities as well as entitlements. The social capital agenda which we are all seeking to develop I believe increases such a need for a change of language.

A language of responsibility, of reciprocity, of contribution. "Citizen" I think fits better this need than "customer". If we’re asking people to partner with us, to co-produce or to do more for themselves, we may find ourselves tripped up badly by the customer mentality.

I say this not only from conviction but from experience. Even a few months into my time as a Councillor, I come up all the time againstpeople who see the Council as the would see a service centre run by Dell or Hotpoint. “We pay, you deliver” is the mentality.

So people won’t pick litter, clear leaves or call on their elderly neighbour because that’s, in their words “Your job”.

By treating people as consumers rather than citizens, I fear we are encouraging an attitude of mind which could be incimical to our aspirations as a Council - to build the kind of place we are seeking to create. One of citizenship, as opposed to one, simply, of consumerism.

1 comment:

Rob Fountain said...

I agree entirely - customer has never sat comfortably with me from a social work perspective. I think citizenship is a term to be much more widely used and considered. My liking for the term is also linked to your promotion of responsibility, although perhaps arguing from the other side of the street - not only should it encourage all of us to consider our responsibilities, but the more cynical side of me feels that it is harder for public bodies to ignore citizens. Customers, well they come and go, can be manipulated; citizens - that is an enduring responsibility (no matter how able they are to pay or choose another 'provider')