Reading Thaler and Sunstein’s book ‘Nudge’ set me thinking once again about how some of their ideas could be used to manage demand for local government services when management of scarce financial resources has never been more difficult.
Their notion of ‘public choice architects’ setting out services in a way that changes the behaviour of citizens resonates with the concept of local government managers influencing demand to make their budgets spread further, for example by involving residents in the delivery of services. Some may call this big society, others co-production; personally it sounds more like common sense.
We already know from the changes to school meals, driven by Jamie Oliver, that school cafeterias are now designed to influence pupils’ choice of food and encourage healthier eating. If this type of approach was adopted to manage demand then we may be able to reduce consumption of certain services and increase take-up of others.
Services that are dependent on income generation such as school meals, leisure and parks need to find ways to increase demand through innovating around their service offering and advertising this in a way that connects with the target audience. Local authorities are already experimenting with social media in these areas to attract a new, younger audience.
With regard to services where savings can be made by reducing demand these could include some obvious opportunities around carbon reduction and better use of space in local government’s £250bn of property by encouraging behavioural change amongst council employees and redesigning their accommodation. Similarly, if public attitudes can be changed then reduction could be achieved in demand for refuse collection, building cleaning and street cleansing services.
Some local authorities are already working in partnership with local health partners to supply small bags of grit to residents in winter to enable them to treat their own footpaths and areas beyond their own driveways. This ultimately reduces the number of slips and trips amongst the elderly in particular and therefore the demand on casualty services and fracture clinics.
Critics who suggest this is the state avoiding its responsibilities need to remember that we already sort out our own recycling and place our bins out on the street.
With demand rising for some services and budgets dropping dramatically, changes need to be made to make ends meet. Surely managing demand where possible is preferable to slashing supply.