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Which? responds to plans for greater transparency in public services

Data to help people make more informed choices

Hospital staff with data

The government is to open up public service data to allow consumers to make informed choices on their service providers.

At a launch event with Prime Minister David Cameron, Which? chief executive, Peter Vicary-Smith, has welcomed proposals by the UK government to improve transparency of data as part of wider plans to reform public services, but warned there must be strong minimum standards enforced to protect all consumers.

Champion of choice

The plans will allow consumers to have access to results and complaints data for key public services such as local schools, GPs, and hospitals. The information is intended to help people make more informed choices about key public services.

Which? chief executive, Peter Vicary-Smith, said ‘as a champion of choice Which? welcomes this move by the government to release more information about how public services are performing.’

Ensure minimum standards

Which? says it is important that the government ensures minimum standards are met across public services as not everyone will be interested in researching their options, or able to do so.

Our work in the energy industry has shown that some consumers are overwhelmed by too much information, as demonstrated in the complex area of energy tariffs. 

The government must consider what data is made available, how it is presented and how people can access it to ensure the information is useful and easy to digest.

New public service providers

Government proposals also look to allow voluntary groups, private companies and charities to take over the running of schools, healthcare and other services. Some services could be run by ‘mutuals’, similar to John Lewis in the retail industry and the Co-operative in the personal finance and energy industries.

Consumers at heart

The white paper acknowledges the role Which? already plays in making organisations accountable for their actions. The government has said it is to:

‘Encourage existing champions for consumer choice, such as Which? and the newly announced HealthWatch, to speak out on consumers’ behalf, including acting as agitators for choice in open public services. This role could include reporting their opinions about the quality of choice for consumers in individual services.’

Consumer consultation

Between July and September 2011, the government will gather input from the public on the plans for transparency and reform. In November 2011 the government will set out how departments will implement the proposals and by April 2012, departments will be responsible for publishing regular reporting on access to data.

Which? campaigns

Which? campaigns to make people’s lives fairer, simpler and safer. We’ve long believed that consumers should have the ability to make informed choices in their lives, and have supported this in recent years with our campaigning on finance , energy  and health issues.

For example, our recent hospital car park campaign pulled together the information we gathered from freedom of information requests to showcase which hospitals across the country were offering good service and value.

To find out more about our campaigns, follow Which? Action on Twitter or facebook.

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