Tuesday, July 15

Public service provision by public sector?

There seems to be an inherent assumption that public services such as hospitals, police, roads, infrastructure, garbage collection and so on and so forth have to be provided by the public sector as well, soup to nuts. And this is what bugs the heck out of me.

Recently, at a club for technology, public sector and business executives, a minister came in to talk to us about how the public sector is responding to globalisation. Incidentally, this is a great club, you get to hear some great people and meet even better people. Quite a lot of my knowledge of the public sector provision and senior government workings comes from this wonderful institution, but this time it was a bit of a rambling speech.

What it boiled down to was that globalisation was hitting public services with change on a very dramatic basis while the public sector delivery model was clearly not up to the mark to keep on supporting this. So what he is pushing the public sector to be more risk taking, more entrepreneurial in public service provisioning.

Now, nobody actually objects to public service provision, not if they do not understand what a nation - state is all about. It is about common values, language, culture, geography, history and yes, even public service provision. The fact that there is just one currency note type across the country and everywhere that note is accepted and that it needs public service to make sure that it is fine means that public services are required.

Same with the concept of universal public provision with the post office. In other words, this is a provision which means that the state has to make sure that a letter posted in one part of the country will get to another part of the country, irrespective of the distance travelled, deliveries will be made on regular intervals and so on and so forth. What is actually required is different from country to country. But it is there. Here's a fascinating discussion over what to do with this provision and how to standardise it across Europe. But most importantly is that how do you fund it?

And this is my problem, if the government run public sector does not know how to handle it or provide that public service provision, then instead of trying to get all risk takers and corporatist about it, just put in a regulatory model overseeing the service provision and farm that out to the private sector. Why press the public sector to get excited about this?

Now this is at variance with what is actually happening on the ground. See here for a fascinating story. The private and voluntary sectors are providing a stonking £80 billion of public services, 6% of GDP and I quote:

A government-sponsored study by DeAnne Julius, the economist, revealed on Thursday that those sectors supply a third of public services – everything from National Health Service treatments to bin emptying, IT, back-office functions and RAF pilot training. The market is worth £79bn, employs almost as many people as the NHS and accounts for 6 per cent of gross domestic product, making it a larger industrial sector than pharmaceuticals, automotive or electricity, gas and water. It also has considerable potential for further growth both at home and abroad, the study is expected to conclude.

So the minister and the actual situation on the ground are totally different. And something that I like. Now you might quibble over whether or not the garbage collection is a public service or not but hey, the British public has agreed to do so (and I agree with that) and has outsourced it to private provision while making sure that the service delivery is purchased by government. Neat, no? and as you can see from the article, they are trying to sell this model across the world. Shame the minister did not know about this.

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