PIMMS are orientation platforms designed to provide the missing link between vulnerable groups and public service agencies and companies in France’s most excluded areas. PIMMS’ ensures that clients understand and are able to take full advantage of their rights and social protections by knowing when, how, and where to access the services they need, from the simplest to the most complex administrative rules.
There are four main instances for PIMMS intervention:
• Sensitization and information: Clients can find the best transport itinerary, how to use online services, reduce their utility bills or use the services of a public letter writer. These services are subsidiary to other public service entities who can then deliver full services; • Counsel and support: To arrange payment plans and find alternative solutions when they face excessive debt and/or may lose energy or telephone access;• Proximity services: To purchase stamps and transport tickets. This avoids turning PIMMS into a stigmatized social services platform and allows for the mixing of various socioeconomic groups in completing everyday errands;• Community engagement: PIMMS’ participate in the life of their community by organizing public events and taking part in grassroots activities. In 2008, 270,000 people walked into one of the 31 PIMMS franchises to use the services provided, and thereby, break the vicious cycle of isolation.
Recognizing the value of this unique service, the government supports a plan to expand PIMMS nationally over the next few years. Based on the PIMMS model, the August 2, 2006 decree invited all prefects to encourage the creation and certification of Relais de Services Publics, i.e. public or private entities offering individual counsel and guidance to the general public to facilitate access to public services, especially in rural areas.
With PIMMS, Gilles is going back to the core definition of public service. As stated by French law, equal access to services of public interest is the direct extension of the equality component of the Declaration of Human Rights: The most recognized public service companies such as EDF, La Poste, Suez-GDF, SNCF and Veolia support and finance the multiplication of PIMMS across the country. Yet beyond their social mission, these companies are for-profit and operate in a competitive market. Thanks to PIMMS, the most excluded clients are now prepared to effectively go through administrative procedures and spend less time waiting in lines, which saves the companies millions of euros. PIMMS also ensures the collection of unpaid bills, as they help access the existing discounted free credit repayment packages. Locally, PIMMS rely on a broad diversity of public and private funding to remain independent, non-competitive, and be set up anywhere across the country. Gilles aims to establish PIMMS in the 300 at-risk urban areas and many more rural territories, with 40 more PIMMS open by the end of 2010. Influencing policies and practices, Gilles has rapidly begun to capitalize on PIMMS experience to collect data about neglected groups among the French population. Analyzing trends has enabled him to demonstrate to public service providers the extent to which they are unaware of some of their customers’ challenges. Gilles illustrates and argues for a necessary change in practices. To execute this change, he offers training programs to staff and supports the development of new services.
Gilles is taking care that PIMMS does not become another administrative body. He intends that his structures remain innovative and competitive to best serve the public. Each PIMMS is created based on a local assessment and engagement of the citizen sector, and local and national governance schemes are designed to safeguard the ethics and social impact. In this manner, PIMMS’ offers the best-adapted services for the population’s needs and expectations; ultimately, reinforcing the existing provisions of public services without replacing them. By employing local staff, including mediators, PIMMS provides the best services to the target population. Mediators educate clients to eventually access public services directly and independently, through financial education, computer literacy training, and so on. Moreover, the mediators have often experienced long-term unemployment, and PIMMS offers them a platform for professional integration.