Public Release: 

PR54/06: Do we get what we pay for? Getting to grips with public service productivity

Economic & Social Research Council

How do we get the most out of our public services, and how should the productivity of our public services be measured? The Centre for Market and Public Organisation (CMPO) and the Economic and Social Research Council's Public Services Programme invite analysts, practitioners and the media to a one-day conference in Westminster on Friday 29 September 2006.

The tools we use to measure the effectiveness of UK public services have undergone significant change in recent months, influenced by the publication of a review led by Sir Tony Atkinson in 2005. Following the recommendations of the Atkinson report, for example, the Department for Education and Skills is developing new ways for measuring the productivity of education services, using school attendance rather than pupil numbers when considering the output, and effectiveness, of schools. This is particularly important, given the difficulties associated with large class sizes. New measures for public service productivity are needed in every part of life, from education, healthcare and public order to social services.

"Demands for quality, responsiveness and convenience in public services continue to grow," says Professor Simon Burgess, Director of CMPO at the University of Bristol. "This conference will focus on public service productivity - what we get out in terms of services for the money we put in. We will discuss important foundational issues such the problems involved in actually measuring public service productivity, and what this means."

Christopher Hood (Director of the ESRC's Public Services Programme) will begin the conference. Delegates will also hear from Helen Simpson (IFS, CMPO), who will discuss the measurement of public services productivity and evidence on the effects of competition on productivity. Aileen Simkins (Senior Policy Analyst at the Department of Health and Co-Director of the Atkinson Review) will talk about different approaches to measuring productivity in public services in health. Mary O'Mahony (National Institute of Economic and Social Research) will present evidence about productivity in NHS Acute Care Trusts. Conference participants will also hear from Ben Vollaard (Centraal Planbureau in Holland), who will ask whether the British Crime Survey, and measures of citizen satisfaction could be used to hold the police accountable. Carol Propper (CMPO) will analyse the impact of pay regulation on hospital quality and productivity.

Conference delegates will also hear about a Catch-22 predicament experienced by public service providers throughout the UK, as they try to demonstrate both productivity and need, when Iain McLean and Dirk Haubrich from Oxford University discuss this as a 'vicious triangle' present in the Comprehensive Performance Assessment (CPA) regime.

"Given expected reductions in the rate of growth in public service funding," says Simkins, "it is more important than ever to sustain and improve productivity in public services: to know what we mean by 'productivity' and how to measure it.


Alison Taylor, Centre for Market and Public Organisation (CMPO), University of Bristol on 0117 33 10799

Or Alexandra Saxon/Annika Howard at ESRC, on 01793 413032/413119
Email: /



1. The conference "Do You Get What You Pay For? Getting to Grips with Public Service Productivity" is to be held in Room 8.1 of Local Government House, Smith Square, Westminster, London SW1P 3HZ at 10.30am on Friday, 29 September 2006. The conference is organised by the Centre for Market and Public Organisation (CMPO) at the University of Bristol and the Economic and Social Research Council's Public Services Programme based at the Department of Politics, Oxford. The Conference organisers are Simon Burgess, Director of CMPO and Prof. Christopher Hood, Director of the ESRC's Public Services Programme.

2. The ESRC is the UK's largest funding agency for research and postgraduate training relating to social and economic issues. It provides independent, high quality, relevant research to business, the public sector and Government. The ESRC total expenditure in 2005-06 was £135 million. At any time, the ESRC supports more than 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and research policy institutes.

3. The Atkinson Review on Measuring Government Output and Productivity is published by the Office of National Statistics and is available at

4. ESRC Society Today offers free access to a broad range of social science research and presents it in a way that makes it easy to navigate and saves users valuable time. As well as bringing together all ESRC-funded research (formerly accessible via the Regard website) and key online resources such as the Social Science Information Gateway and the UK Data Archive, non-ESRC resources are included, for example the Office for National Statistics. The portal provides access to early findings and research summaries, as well as full texts and original datasets through integrated search facilities. More at

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