The findings - from a survey of 1,032 British adults carried out by MORI for the Public Management Foundation - suggests that most people care greatly about the NHS but not many about the BBC. Asked which public services were most important to them and their families, 77 per cent selected NHS hospitals and 58 per cent GPs. The police were named by 62 per cent and schools by 49 per cent. But only 9 per cent picked out the BBC; twice as many picked out High Street banks and building societies which, though they have always been part of the private sector, are perceived by many as being public services.
By a margin of six to one, people think that public services should be under public control and, by three to two (49 per cent to 33 per cent), they believe that they provide the taxpayer with value for money.
Yet, by four to one, our respondents believe that public services are poorly managed and, by 14 to one, that they would be better off if there was less political interference. Three-quarters of those surveyed say that the services cannot cope with the demand for them and two-thirds believe that the people who most need services do not get them. By a margin of 10 to one, our respondents agree that there is not enough investment in public services.
So would people pay higher taxes for better public services? As many as 54 per cent say they would, against 32 per cent who would not. (The rest did not know.) Liberal Democrat supporters were most likely to favour higher taxes, Tory supporters least likely, though even among them the proportion was 48 per cent. Less predictably, two-thirds of middle-class respondents say they would pay more taxes, against only a third of working- class people. While only 28 per cent of 16-24 year old men say they would be willing to pay more taxes (against 48 per cent of 16-24 year old women) as many as 70 per cent of the 35-54s would do so.
Finally, how do people think of themselves in relation to public services? Four in 10 call themselves "a member of the public", one in four prefer "a citizen", one in five opted for "a customer". But only one in 50 call themselves a "stakeholder". Clearly, Tony Blair's big idea has still to take hold in the British public mind.
n The author is chairman of MORI, which interviewed a representative quota sample of 1,032 British adults, aged 16+. A full report is available from the Public Management Foundation at pounds 5.95.