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‘Who Counts What as Public Services?’

Exploring European Attitudes to Public Services

Who counts what as ‘public services’? The term is often used as if it had some single canonical meaning. But in fact there are many different possible ways of defining what services are to be counted as ‘public’ and many cases in which opinions will differ. Some citizens would consider access to a range of TV channels, an internet connection, or frequent and affordable public transport as essential, and therefore to be guaranteed in some way by government. Others would dispute the ‘general interest’ component in many of these services. One way to explore these differences is to examine variations among different EU countries to questions about what the EU terms ‘services of general interest’, which broadly denote network or collectively-consumed services (such as post or rail). Steven Van de Walle will analyse survey data sets on ‘services of general interest’ to identify what is common and what varies in EU citizens’ responses, or what they consider to be SGI and how they believe those services should be organized and reformed. What the research means for policymakers and the wider community

Research methods Eurobarometer opinion surveys are regularly conducted in EU countries, with a sample of around 1,000 interviewees per country. Each respondent is asked the same questions including queries about services of general interest (e.g. energy supply, telephony, postal services, public transport), service related issues (price, access, competition…), political orientation and involvement, life satisfaction and personal characteristics.  Accordingly, the fellowship will explore attitudes to SGI across the EU by analyzing a set of Eurobarometer surveys that were conducted between 1997-2005, focusing on the fifteen Member States in existence prior to the EU enlargement in 2004. Particular attention will be paid to UK responses and how they compare with other countries. Research details The project, ‘Public Attitudes towards Services of General Interest in Comparative Perspective’, runs from October 2007 until September 2008.

Project Outputs and Related Webpages

Project Poster 2009

Van de Walle, S. and  Scott Z. (2009),  ’The Role of Public Services in State- and Nation-Building: Exploring Lessons from European History for Fragile States’, GSDRC Research Paper, University of Birmingham.

Van de Walle, S. (2008). ‘What Services are Public?: What Aspects of Performance are to be Ranked? The Case of Services of General Interest’. International Public Management Journal, Vol 11 (3) pp.256-275

Research Team

Steven Van de Walle (Erasmus University Rotterdam)

Steven Van de Walle is a Lecturer in Public Management at the University of Birmingham Institute of Local Government Studies (School of Public Policy). He was a visiting research associate at the at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University (USA) in 2005-2006 and before that conducted postdoctoral research at the Public Management Institute at K.U.Leuven (Belgium). His research interests include: the relation between quality of public services and citizens’ trust in government, citizens’ perception of the public sector, public opinion surveys, comparative government performance, services of general interest and governance indicators