Plans to invite the ‘average Joe’ to rate public sector services on an interactive website will be misused by overzealous individuals and could end up damaging local authority reputations, HR chiefs have warned.
A Cabinet Office policy paper on improving public services unveiled last week announced that parents, patients and any other members of the public will be able to go online to comment on the performance of their hospitals, police forces and councils. Users could respond to feedback they see on the site, rating services or criticising them, in a similar way to travel review websites like Tripadvisor.com, or buying and selling sites such as eBay, currently work.
Listed in full public view, the reviews would not be made to count towards assessing individuals’ performance, the government said, although many HR chiefs claimed they would routinely use the reviews to help improve services.
However, Brendon Hills, head of HR at Shropshire County Council, said he was concerned the sites would just become home to biased comments from disgruntled advocacy groups.
“It could be quite easy for websites to be hijacked by community interest groups who push a particular line that isn’t feasible,” he told Personnel Today.
Hills added the very nature of the feedback was more likely to be negative, as people generally felt it more necessary to complain rather than praise services, which could taint the truth about overall public perception.
Anne Gibson, head of HR at Norfolk County Council, warned it was crucial that websites used to display public feedback were closely monitored. A failure to moderate comments could create more problems than the feedback sites may solve, she said.
“These websites might encourage people to get very personal, as some people have different agendas that cannot work in the spirit of these things.”
The Public Sector People Managers’ Association (PPMA) agreed there was a risk that websites could end up ‘naming and shaming’ local authorities and other public services rather than helping to improve them.
Alan Warner, lead officer for communications at the PPMA, said: “When the police arrest someone, or social services swoop in to remove a child, those affected are customers who for subjective reasons may not feel too warm towards the local authority, and could now have personal vendettas. HR could find themselves with many more headaches if members of staff were being pilloried.”
However, a Cabinet Office spokesman said: “At this stage, we don’t know what people will be writing and how they’ll be feeding back on the websites, so there is no moderation policy yet.”
Overview of policy paper recommendations:
Allow people to comment on public sector services and share issues with others.
Introduce a new performance management framework for departments.
Encourage public sector workers to participate in peer-support networks in their area of work.
Develop customer services training for all new police constables.