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Social economy and liberalisation of services: the case of proximity services (ECOSEP)

Research project TA/00/10 (Research action TA)

Persons :

Description :

The research will concentrate on the providers which rely on this voucher system. The price of the “service voucher” being determined, the competition between the various operators in this field of activity will relate to the performance of the productive activity, beyond price criteria (total number of “service vouchers” exchanged, quality of the service, number of good-quality jobs created for socially vulnerable persons, collective impacts produced [see infra], innovating entrepreneurial initiatives…), and this with regard to the interests of the various stakeholders (users, workers, society at large…). Moreover, a second factor of differentiation between service providers comes into play as some of them are also characterized by a possible “affiliation” to other types of public policy, such as work-integration regulation (work-integration enterprises, activa, SINE,…) and/or tutelary regulation (for example support services for families). This association is not only likely to impact the service and job quality, but also provides additional financial resources to some providers.

In order to determine the impact of the introduction of a quasi-market mode of regulation on the provision of proximity services and on the collective issues linked hereto, the research theme in split into two sub-questions:

Firstly, the objective of this research is to define elements on which to base the evaluation of the providers in terms of, on the one hand, performance of the productive activity and, on the other hand, financial resources and providers’ "affiliation" to other modes of regulation – work-integration and/or tutelary regulation. On the basis of 1) a theoretical analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the various providers and 2) a performance analysis grid, we will analyse whether (and why) there are variations in performance among the different types of service providers (be they public, for-profit private or social economy providers).

Secondly, the performance level reached by the different types of providers to the resources used will be compared. This will allow the researchers to reflect on state intervention in the field of proximity services and to bring into question the specific contribution of each type of regulation. Indeed, the competition between providers brought about by the service voucher system highlights some "inequalities" in terms of access to additional public financial resources linked to other modes of regulation (tutelary and/or work-integration regulation). That situation is sometimes described as “over-subsidisation” and thus, as “unfair competition”. However, it is only under the assumption that the performance of "over-subsidised" providers would be identical, in terms of the collective impacts (see infra), to that of other providers, that the granting of additional means might effectively be considered as “unfair competition”.

Moreover, it is also necessary to analyse whether a "sane business competition" made possible by the introduction of a quasi-market regulation is able to guarantee, by itself, the quality of the services provided and of the jobs created, and that for two reasons. First, the domiciliary care market does not correspond to the ideal-typical model of pure and perfect competition. It is notably characterized by numerous informational imperfections, in particular information asymmetries, that impose on the several stakeholders to generate trust through other ways than through the price system signal. Secondly, the certification necessary to have access to the “voucher system” is relatively little restrictive for the providers as far as the job and service quality is concerned. A comparative performance analysis will allow us to determine how this "quasi-market" structures itself; to identify a possible segmentation, among the providers, of the customers and/or workers hired; to identify strategies of service differentiation…

The aim of this research is thus to help decision-makers at the national level to better perceive the role of the various providers (and in particular that of social economy organisations) in this sector; to elaborate modes of public regulation able to support a development of proximity services meeting criteria of both efficiency and equity while complying with European rules; and to build up arguments in favour of these modes of regulation which could be developed by the federal government in the framework of the negotiations currently under way at the supranational level.

In order to answer the questions above, the research work is structured in three main research parts, leading to a "recommendations" part.

(1) legal analysis of the evolution of the rules governing the EU internal market (analysis of laws and decisions of the Court) and of the consequences of this evolution on the modes of public regulation in the field of proximity services,
(2) elaboration, on the basis of a theoretical approach, of a grid of assessment of the performance of providers in terms of individual and collective benefits,
(3) an empirical comparative analysis of the performance of the various types of providers (private for-profit, public and social economy providers) when faced with the evolutions of the modes of regulation, i.e. the shift from tutelary regulation to measures pertaining to a work-integration and/or competitive regulation system,
(4) concrete public policies recommendations to be adopted depending on the goals pursued by public authorities.

These various parts rely on a European comparative analysis based on the contributions of the foreign partners, which allows to take into account various contexts in terms of types of welfare states.

Documentation :

Economie plurielle et régulation publique. Le quasi-marché des titres-services en Belgique : rapport final  Henry, A. - Nassaut, S. - Defourny, J. ... et al  Gent : Academia Press, 2009 (PB6248)
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Economie sociale et libéralisation des services: le cas des services de proximité (ECOSEP) : synthèse de recherche     Bruxelles : Politique scientifique fédérale, 2010 (SP2160)
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Sociale economie en liberalisering van diensten: de buurtdiensten nader bekeken (ECOSEP) : synthese van het onderzoek    Brussel : Federaal Wetenschapsbeleid, 2010 (SP2161)
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Social economy and liberalisation of services: the case of proximity services (ECOSEP) : research summary    Brussels : Federal Science Policy, 2010 (SP2162)
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